Ian Thomas Malone

review Archive



September 2021



Classic Film: The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings

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As a sport, baseball is frequently criticized for its perceived lack of “star power” in the modern era, even as players like Shohei Ohtani make history for feats that haven’t been seen in nearly a hundred years. Baseball isn’t a sport that generally rewards flashy antics or trash-talking superstars, regarding such behavior as detrimental to the integrity of the game. Anyone who follows the game closely can attest to the abundance of characters that populate the dugouts, apparently flying under the radar of the broader media at large.

As a film, 1976’s The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings harkens back to a time when the sport of baseball was filled with nothing but characters. Set against the backdrop of 1930s segregation, Bingo Long (Billy Dee Williams) is a star pitcher fed up with the corrupt owners in the Negro Leagues. Barred from MLB due to its abhorrent racism, Bingo instead sets out to form a team of his own, traveling the Midwest to scrape out a living playing local clubs. Veteran slugger Leon Carter (James Earl Jones) balances out Long’s ambitions with a healthy level of skepticism for their power of change against the rigid confines of institutional power structures.

Based on the 1973 novel of the same name, the film is an unusual blend of slapstick comedy and serious drama. Director John Badham does a marvelous job supplying plenty of laughs while never allowing his audience to lose sight of the bleak realities of his characters. Few comedies seek to grapple with capitalism and the means of production in such a serious manner, all the while working double-time to keep things upbeat and entertaining.

Williams and Jones work marvelously off each other, grounding the narrative’s comedic efforts through their efforts to bring change amidst impossible circumstances. Though Leon’s practical realism occasionally clashes with Bingo’s lofty goals, the two communicate their differences with love and deep mutual respect. The quality of their performances elevates the material through some of its more predictable twists and turns.

While mostly Williams and Jones’ vehicle, the supporting cast is filled with memorable characters who get their own moments to shine. Richard Pryor carves out a hilarious subplot centered around his character’s efforts to pass as Cuban in order to circumvent MLB’s segregation rules. Pryor finds humor in the reality of America’s racist rot, a tall order that leaves a lasting impression on the audience.

The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings struggles a bit with its 110-minute runtime, losing steam when the third act needs to reign in the jokes toward a destination that most could see coming from a mile away. At times, Badham seems a little too content to simply let Williams and Jones carry the narrative, not quite shaking the sense that the end results could have been better if everything was tightened up a bit. As far as baseball films go, the film is pretty singular in its execution, a script capable of blending humor with Marx’s theory of economics. Few sports narratives are so sincere with their intentions.



January 2020



Slamdance Review: Beware of Dog

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The question of social media’s value is one that’s talked about every day across the world. For all the ways technology has seemingly brought us together, plenty of people feel increasingly isolated. Nadia Bedzhanova’s Beware of Dog focuses on three characters in three different countries, each struggling to cope with loneliness exacerbated by mental illnesses.

Marina (Marina Vasileva) struggles with OCD in Moscow, faced with a boyfriend who doesn’t care much about her. Paula (Paula Knüpling) meets a traveler in Berlin who’s interested in her romantically, though her bipolar disorder causes problems with her communication skills. Mike (Buddy Duress) is doing his best to stay clean, desperate for his girlfriend to reciprocate the attention he’s trying to give.

Bedzhanova juggles her film’s three leads well, a director with a keen sense for detail. Filming in three beautiful cities, she often uses the landscape to accentuate the isolation that her characters feel. New York, Moscow, and Berlin are beautiful yet deeply intimidating cities. In many ways, the settings feel like characters themselves.

The film has a knack for communicating mental illness in nonverbal ways. Bedzhanova shows off her skills as a director to craft surrealistic sequences that illustrate the hardships that her character’s face. The audience gets a front row seat to the conflict, understanding the flaws of the protagonists while retaining a large degree of sympathy for them.

Beware of Dog captures the universality of humanity. You get the sense that Bedzhanova could swap the characters’ surroundings and the end result would be the same. The film makes easy work of cultural boundaries, showing its audience all the things we share in common.

The ideas that the film addresses are quite complex, without easy answers. The supporting characters help the narrative grapple with the leads’ imperfections. Mike in particular is a sympathetic guy who’s also essentially his own worst enemy. Paula is quite frustrating in her behavior. Bedzhanova presents these dynamics in a way that helps the audience understand where these people are coming from without condoning their actions.

In some ways, Beware of Dog is a frustrating narrative. Focusing on three leads is a tricky proposition for a film with a runtime of under ninety minutes. That line of thinking can also apply to narratives with only one lead, but the audience is left with a sense that there were plenty of elements of the film left to be explored.

Beware of Dog is a thought-provoking film that handles its many moving pieces with grace. There’s a lot left on the table, but Bedzhanova crafted a narrative that examines the many facets of mental illness in a way that never feels trite or exploitative. Loneliness knows no borders.



December 2019



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.



October 2019



The Lighthouse is a Contemplative Gem Bound to Captivate and Terrify

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On the surface, a film like The Lighthouse seems to exist in stark contradiction to pretty much anything else you could find playing at your local theatre. Filmed on one location, using 35 mm black and white film and only two actors in speaking roles, Robert Eggers’ second feature carries the aura of a stage play throughout its narrative. Throw in a runtime of nearly two hours, the whole experience feels designed to capture the essence of cabin fever that being stuck on a rock would inevitably create.

Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) and Thomas Wake (William Dafoe) are two lighthouse keepers, or “wickies,” assigned to a small rocky island for a four-week stay. Wake, the senior wickie, finds himself disinterested in the mundane duties, leaving Winslow to handle all the manual labor himself. Monotony and time make for uneasy bedfellows, giving a sense of unreliability to the narrative.

Pattinson and Dafoe give two of the best performances of their careers, putting seemingly every emotion on display throughout the film. There’s an impressive depth to their relationship, reflective of their isolated surroundings. Much of the film plays out like a horror movie, but there’s plenty of moments of natural comedy that help ease the tension.

Eggers proves his directorial skills time and again throughout the narrative. The Lighthouse is a quiet, almost contemplative film, but there’s a deliberate sense to the pacing. Some of the sequences exude claustrophobia, putting the audience right in the midst of the dilemma that Wake and Winslow find themselves in.

The film’s cinematography is also a highlight, impressive considering the small size of the island. Eggers uses the ocean around the lighthouse to aid the sense of isolation, as well as the magnitude of the powers beyond the wickie’s control. In that regard, space is both minuscule and grandiose.

The only issue with The Lighthouse lies with its runtime. 110 minutes is long for many movies, especially one filmed in a small space with two actors. There is the sense that Eggers deliberately drew out the narrative to mirror the plight of his characters, hopelessly stuck with no end in sight.

Trouble is, there’s only so many times that Winslow and Wake can experience the same conflicts until the whole exercise starts to feel a bit monotonous. The notion of purpose behind the monotony clashes with the idea that the film spends a bit too much time hovering above its destination before landing. It could be fifteen minutes shorter without losing a beat.

Despite the overly drawn out third act, The Lighthouse is a remarkable film. It’s funny, horrifying, uncomfortable, and deeply strange, all at the same time. Minimalism isn’t a trait often truly appreciated on the big screen. Eggers crafted a quietly beautiful narrative that’s well-worth a trip to the theatre.



February 2019



A Violent Man Doesn’t Have a Clear Sense of Purpose

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Sports movies are in many ways completely antithetical to their real-life counterparts. Legendary plays happen spontaneously, but movies have to manufacture these moments in an effort to convey that same sense of shock and wonder to an audience that expects something to happen. A Violent Man effectively substitutes any sense of suspense that might occur in its MMA octagon for a murder mystery, sprinkling the sports genre with a heavy dose of thriller.

Ty Matthews is an aging fighter looking at the end of his prime. An opportunity for a practice match against the well-known Marco Reign gives him a sense of optimism for his future not enjoyed by his girlfriend Whitney. An effort to defy an NDA imposed by Reign’s manager Ben is scuttled when the reporter he contacted ends up dead after a sexual encounter between the two, with the police looking at Ty for the murder.

The acting is A Violent Man’s strongest attribute. Thomas Q. Jones does an effective job in the lead role, drawing out empathy for Ty’s struggle without requiring the audience to agree with many of his decisions. Ben Davison puts forth a solid effort as Reign’s manager, carefully juggling charm with sleaziness in nearly all of his scenes. Issach De Bankolé gives a strong performance as trainer/mentor Pete, anchoring the emotional core of the film with his concern for Ty and the current trajectory of his life.

While the actors are shown to be capable of carrying the drama, the writing doesn’t give any of them much to work with. The vast majority of the scenes are riddled with clichés. Khalilah Joi can’t really do much as Ty’s girlfriend, Whitney when the script constantly calls for her to deliver the most predictable lines imaginable. Denise Richard’s brief appearance as reporter Victoria is entirely undercut by her character’s painfully unrealistic lust for Ty, casting aside any sense of obligation to portray a believable journalist.

A Violent Man struggles to be a sports film and a thriller, stripping either of any sense of dramatic urgency. Much of the second half of the film is dedicated to the fallout of Victoria’s murder, but the film pivots back to Ty’s feud with Marco in the third act, culminating in a weak title fight that feels less like a climax than an obligation to get it out of the way as quickly as possible. The conclusion is rushed and undercut by the narrow scope of the film that renders it practically inevitable.

For most of the film, director Matthew Berkowitz makes the most of a small budget, using minimalistic lighting and a strong score to hone in the intimacy of his sets. The title fight loses this touch, feeling oddly small and out of a place in a narrative that otherwise knew how to make the best of its locations. Perhaps some of this is the fault of the limited use of Chuck Liddell as Reign, who isn’t in the film for long enough to leave any kind of lasting impression.

MMA fans may find something to enjoy in A Violent Man, which offers some decent commentary on the struggles of making it in an unforgiving business. The lackluster script hinders both the performances and the narrative pacing. There’s a lot to like in the concept, but the film fell apart as it tried to tie its various strands together.



December 2018



Aquaman Squanders Jason Momoa by Overstuffing Itself at Every Turn

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The stakes for Aquaman are far more arbitrary than they seem. We can say that some mandate existed to “save” the mess that is the DCEU, but this notion is completely undercut by the fact that the movie makes almost no mention of its connected universe. A viewer could sit down in their seat with no knowledge that this film is Jason Momoa’s third go-around as Arthur Curry and leave never wondering if there had been life before Atlantis. Aquaman didn’t need to save anything other than the sea.

With the stink of the moody incoherent Justice League washed away, Aquaman sets a far more jovial tone. Unlike Ben Affleck, Jason Momoa constantly looks like he’s enjoying himself in his role, playing the half-human/half-Atlantean with a kind of contagious glee. His charm is up and away the film’s strongest asset, allowing the film to play up its hero’s inevitable campy moments in a way that preserves some grace in self-parody. The film is desperate to be in on the joke rather than the butt of it, a fate that has befallen every other DCEU release save for Wonder Woman. There is plenty of laughter to be had in Aquaman, though some of it appears quite unintentional.

Momoa’s enthusiasm serves an excellent deflection from a subpar script that seems to take its cues from the 1970s Super Friends cartoon instead of Zack Snyder’s DCEU offerings. Sometimes the dialogue is naturally funny, but often the laughter comes from cringe-worthy camp moments that make you wonder how a major studio approved such lackluster writing. As a superhero, Aquaman has lived for decades with a reputation for being pretty lame, with Momoa’s natural sense of swagger serving as a great counterbalance that’s too often undercut by a script that rarely does him any favors.

The film’s larger plot barely earns a passing grade for coherence, but Aquaman is weighed down by a few too many subplots. The opening sets up Black Mantra, played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, as the villain only to discard that notion early on in favor of a multi-tiered approach. Patrick Wilson never seems fully confident in carrying the role of antagonist as Arthur’s brother Orm Marius, who’s desperate to unite the various ocean kingdoms to fight back against land dwellers and all their pollution. As if two villains weren’t enough, Dolph Lundgren also hangs around as Nereus, king of Xebel and father of Arthur’s primary love interest Meera, played by Amber Heard. None of the bad guys are particularly memorable, largely because there isn’t enough time to go around between all the various rabbit holes director James Wan wants to play around in.

The bloated runtime serves as the film’s fatal flaw. Aquaman is far too long, constantly undercutting its charm in service to derivative action sequences that lose all appeal by the third act. Some of the film’s fight scenes are truly impressive in nature, but others look lifted off a Power Rangers battle. Wan squanders any goodwill on that front by stuffing far too many battles into the film, turning any camp factor from humorous to tedious.

Aquaman is very entertaining at times. If its narrative hadn’t been so overstuffed with needless subplots and excessive action sequences, it very likely would have made for an excellent superhero film. Instead, it settles for being the second best DCEU release, an accolade it was practically predestined for by token of not being a depressing slog. It is still a chore to get through in one sitting. Thorough editing could have saved this film from a fate similar to the “so bad it’s moderately entertaining” legacy of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, which exiled the caped crusader from the big screen for almost a decade. Aquaman is a marginal improvement for the DCEU, but it should have been so much more.



December 2018



A Meandering Narrative Derails the Otherwise Well-Constructed Mary Queen of Scots

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Despite the literal definition of the genre, almost all biopics offer a false promise by token of their run times. Few two-hour movies can provide a complete portrait of a historical figure’s life. There just isn’t enough time. The best biopics narrow in on a specific period of a person’s story in order to illuminate a broader point about who they were.

Mary Queen of Scots appears aware of this predicament, with all of its trailers spotlighting the troubled relationship between two cousins seemingly destined for turmoil. Much has been said of the historical inaccuracy at the heart of the film’s narrative, the fact that history refutes the idea that Mary and Elizabeth ever met, but this revision is hardly a factor weighing down the film. Much more problematic is the idea that the narrative never seems fully committed to the course it laid out for itself early on.

Somewhere along the way the film decided that the relationship between Mary and Elizabeth wasn’t enough to sustain the entire narrative, but Mary Queen of Scots never really laid down the framework to dedicate much time to anything else. Some attention is given to Mary’s many troubles in Scotland, with seemingly everyone around her conspiring to end her reign, but these scenes can’t shake the aura of filler. There’s nothing really tying any of the political turmoil together besides the history itself, presenting sequences strung together without any hint of a story.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the casting is Mary Queen of Scots biggest strength. Saoirse Ronan plays a charming and relatable Mary. Margot Robbie makes the most of the limited scope Elizabeth is given in the narrative. The rest of the cast, including David Tennant, Guy Pearce, Joe Alwyn, and Gemma Chan all put forth compelling performances in supporting roles, but the acting isn’t the problem. The issue is that the film never gives any of its immense talent anything compelling to do.

As effective as Ronan and Robbie are at garnering sympathy for their character’s positions, such efforts are squandered because the film never really builds toward anything. We know their eventual meeting is going to happen by token of the trailers, but everything else feels like they’re simply going through the motions until that moment comes. Despite being ostensibly the two most powerful people in their realms, both characters are never really shown to be anything more than helpless. You can feel for them, but that’s about all that’s ever asked of the audience. There’s nothing here for anyone to actually root for.

Mary Queen of Scots is a film comprised of beautiful pieces with absolutely zero substance at the center. The costumes are gorgeous and the performances are excellent, but these elements cannot indefinitely sustain the absence of narrative. There’s a lot to appreciate in the film’s diverse casting, with nods to acceptance of homosexuality and gender fluidity, which effectively dispels the notion that inclusion is a distraction in period dramas. Trouble is, the film seems entirely composed of diversion used to substitute for the notion that it actually has a story.

The past few years have offered plenty of reasons to dispel with the occasional public perception that period dramas are dry and boring. Mary Queen of Scots unfortunately plays this trope up quite well. The sum of its many admirable parts don’t add up to an interesting movie, only two hours of watching talented actors try to pull a narrative out of thin air.



December 2017



The Shape of Water is a Profoundly Human Masterpiece

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Guillermo del Toro is a singular filmmaker in the industry. His delicate approach transcends the conventional patterns for the science fiction/horror genres, giving movies like Hellboy & Pacific Rim a much stronger emotional resonance than an audience might expect from their blockbuster aspirations. Other films such as Pan’s Labyrinth & Crimson Peak offer narrative complexities with all of the visual wonders you might expect out of an installment of the Transformers. The Shape of Water is a carefully crafted spectacular that should finally deliver some long overdue awards show recognition for one of the most innovative directors currently making movies.

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War and all the anxiety it brought to the nation, The Shape of Water takes place in a Baltimore research facility in the 1960s. Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is a mute woman who works alongside Octavia Spencer’s Zelda as a night-shift janitor, whose fairly routine life is disrupted as she begins to form a bond with a humanoid fish creature, initially known as the “Asset,” who’s brought to the lab after being captured by a team led by Michael Shannon’s Colonel Strickland, a man who embodies the worst prejudices of his era.

The heightened anxieties of the era are largely absent from Elisa’s life. She has a close bond with Zelda, along with Richard Jenkins’ Giles, finding warmth in less than perfect circumstances. She takes pleasure in listening to music, dancing, or even simple conversation while many live in fear of nuclear annihilation. I’m not sure if del Toro meant that as a commentary on the present era, but there’s a certain sense of optimism conveyed in the way Elisa goes about her life, smiling when many might see nothing but dread.

Despite the presence of a magic humanoid fish creature at the heart of the narrative, The Shape of Water is a deeply human film. Hawkins, Shannon, and Richard Jenkins portray fundamentally broken characters searching for the missing pieces in their lives. Hawkins expertly conveys her character Elisa’s emotions through sign language, working off of Jenkins, Spencer, and the “Asset” in a way that never feels as though a barrier exists between the characters. It is through this simple act of conversation, even at times without words, that The Shape of Water truly stands out.

For all the visual wonder that we’ve grown to expect from del Toro’s work, the performances allow the film to exist on an intimate level with its audience. This may be both a period piece and a science fiction film, but it makes its strongest investment in its characters. Jenkins’ Giles is a lonely closeted artist struggling to have his work noticed. Shannon’s Strickland is a scorned officer, who blindly shields his vulnerability with anger and abuse. Doug Jones’ performance as the “Asset” makes him out to be both intelligent and at the same time, a wild beast. These are fully fleshed out characters. Films often struggle to juggle both their casts and their narratives, but The Shape of Water allows its immensely talented cast to shine at every moment, even when Spencer’s Zelda is simply rambling about her family while she and Elisa mop the floor.

At its core, The Shape of Water is a film about being seen as a person without any asterisks. Elisa is mute, Giles is gay, Zelda is a person of color, and the “Asset” is a magical fish creature. These are details about these people, not singular traits that define their entire existence. We live in a world that often forgets to see people as people, or simply chooses not to. The film triumphs most when it flips this scenario, presenting characters who live and love without considering all the factors that set them apart.

Guillermo del Toro has always been an expert at crafting the world he wants his audience to exist in for the duration of his films. He ups the ante with The Shape of Water, a film that not only wows the viewer, but forces one to think about the way we view each other in a nation where diversity is often weaponized as a political tool. It is certainly his best English language script and may very well be his finest film. As a director who’s primarily worked in the sci-fi/horror genres which are rarely acknowledged in the major awards categories, del Toro has hardly gotten his due as a master filmmaker. Hopefully, that changes this year, but regardless,  The Shape of Water is one of the year’s best and well worth the price of admission.



April 2016



Fear The Walking Dead and the Crisis of Character

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As someone who considers himself a casual fan of The Walking Dead, I looked forward to Fear the Walking Dead for two reasons. The cast of the flagship show has grown too large and the plot too convoluted for a show that only produces sixteen episodes a year. Fear offered a simpler approach to the zombie genre.

The trouble with a zombie show that focuses more on character than action is that it needs to actually have compelling characters. For Fear, this shouldn’t inherently be a problem as it doesn’t need to allocate screen time to dozens of characters, but having time to build relationships with characters doesn’t necessarily make them likable or even compelling.

The first episode of Fear offered next to nothing positive for anyone other than perhaps the diehard fans who stick around for Talking Dead. Only two characters stood out as remotely interesting, Salazar and Strand, with two more, Madison and Nick, that I only care about because I like the actors who play them (Kim Dickens and Frank Dillane, the son of Game of Thrones’ Stephen Dillane).

Fear fails because it makes the wrong assumption that its characters have to be tethered to a Rick-like sense of altruism that’s more than a little tired six years into the franchise. I assume someone involved with the creative felt the need to have Madison express a desire to help the refugees on the boat as The Abigail sailed on. As new a show as Fear is, we’re past that kind of nonsense, which benefits Strand as a character who thinks logically. Fear makes the mistake of pitting someone against Strand’s position, which might be natural as far as storylines go, but we don’t need that and more importantly, we don’t want it.

If the reports that this season will spend much of its time on water are to be believed, Fear’s season two is shaping up to look at lot like Herschel’s farm. In other words, boring. The boat might be more fun than the farm, but we don’t have Rick, Glen, Dale, Shane, Carol, Maggie, or T-Dog to keep us entertained. The hints of a Strand/Madison/Salazar conflict offer a flicker of hope for this season, but the downside of that is that it stands to reason that one of them will die, leaving us short a compelling character.

Granted, it seems unfair to completely write off the show. Season six of TWD bears little resemblance to season two. The only problem is that season two wasn’t really bad on its own. It dragged on at times and pales in comparison to every other season, but it wasn’t terrible TV. Beyond that, it always had the comics to show us that better times were just on the horizon.

Here, I don’t know. I’m not sure how much I care. Water zombies are fun, but plodding melodrama can be better found elsewhere. If Fear wants to be a character centric drama, it better work on its characters who for the most part, have less interesting personalities than the creatures chasing them around.



July 2015



UnReal Is The Perfect Summer TV Show

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There are two types of shows that air in the summer. There’s summer TV and shows that happen to air in the summer. Six Feet Under is a summer TV show. True Detective is a show that airs in the summer. Rescue Me is a summer TV show. Masters of Sex is a show that airs in the summer. Burn Notice is a summer TV show. Rectify is a show that airs in the summer.

You might be confused with what the difference is, especially since none of these shows really have anything in common with each other. There’s really only one word that makes a TV show that airs in the summer, a summer TV show. Fun.

It’s hard to imagine summer TV being what it is now without Six Feet Under, which aired in the infant stages of cable television’s rise to power. Back in a day when channels like HBO protected their especially quirky shows by airing in them in the broadcast TV offseason, a show about a family that ran a funeral home could plant its dark comedic roots without being slaughtered by the likes of an ER or a CSI.

That’s less important nowadays when the overwhelming majority of shows that anyone cares to talk about air on cable anyway, but summer TV has always maintained a niche that at least in theory separates itself from the rest of the year. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Netflix drops all the Orange is the New Black episodes in the summer months, when everyone craves something a little lighter than say, House of Cards.

Which isn’t to say that dramedies don’t air at all times of the year. Only that they flourish in the months when the days are long and people tune in at night to see something with a little more flair than a conventional drama, perhaps with a margarita or a Corona. This year’s line-up is packed with shows, but not necessarily many that fit the label I’ve described besides OINTB, which caters to the binge watchers.

I don’t think it should be too surprising to see Lifetime produce a hit scripted drama. After all, History managed it with Vikings. Fifteen years ago, the notion that AMC was capable of producing one of the most successful shows of all time was laughable. Turns out, the channel didn’t even need to stray very far for its core philosophy either.

UnReal is about the behind the scenes madness of a Bachelor stand in show called Everlasting. As you can probably imagine, the show is heavy on the melodrama. What was really shocking is how well that worked.

UnReal’s best asset is its cast. Shiri Appleby does a marvelous job playing the enigmatic lead Rachel, whose shadiness goes well beyond the point of absurdity. I can think of about a hundred ways in which her character could ruin the whole show, but Appleby keeps her grounded enough to make it all work.

House of Cards alum Constance Zimmer is also superb, though it takes a minute to fully comprehend how an actress so misused on a Netflix show could then be properly utilized on a Lifetime scripted drama. Craig Bierko, who played one of my least favorite characters on Boston Legal (one of my all time favorite shows), also plays his part to perfection.

What makes UnReal so satisfying? The show isn’t afraid to be what it is, a scripted drama about a reality show that’s lauded as a joke that airs on a network that also happens to be lauded as a joke. One might say UnReal itself was in on the joke.

It’s a show that’s self aware of the medium it exists in. It knows it can get away with wildly outlandish plots and dreamy sequences played to the tune of a Lifetime TV movie. UnReal isn’t trying to be anything else, which is perhaps why it succeeds. It’s a genuinely original idea in a world that’s starving for ideas to the point where it brought back Coach and Prison Break.

The true appeal lies with UnReal’s delivery. It could survive on being “so bad it’s good,” like the recent A Deadly Adoption Lifetime TV movie starring Will Ferrell and Kristen Wiig. Instead, it uses its quality cast and lets them run wild in the absurdist playground.

Which is what makes a perfect summer TV show. Six Feet Under’s black humor would’ve worked at any point in the year, but it felt especially delectable when the weather melts away your other worries. The fact that it airs on a Monday might matter during the fall months, but here it carries the “c’est la vie” mentality that makes it all the more refreshing. An excuse to have a glass of wine at 10 pm on a Monday and a good one at that!