Archive for the ‘TV series’ Category

Never made it past episode 5 of Breaking Bad. So, it’s remarkable that I finished season one of the prequel series Better Call Saul. Highly recommended by friends and all kinds of ‘best tv series’ articles, this show focuses on Saul Goodman, a scam artist turned lawyer turned runaway.

The season starts with the main character working at a Cinnabon in a shopping mall, visibly scared when he spots someone who may have recognized him. Great start! Why is he scared? Why did he run away? Why is a lawyer working at a fastfood bakery?

You won’t get the answers in the first season. In fact, ten episodes into the story and there are even more unanswered questions. Like why the lawyer is known as Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad, but introduced as James McGill in Better Call Saul. 

The main focus of this first season is an introduction to the crazy world of this intriguing lawyer. We get to learn a bit about his past as a scam artist, his troubled relationship with his brother, his love for a colleague and his constant doubts about doing the right thing. This guy is funny, clever, has a heart of gold, is ambitious… But at the same time relatively clumsy, awkward, lonely and constantly flirting with failure. Luckily, this season also focuses on other characters. We get to learn a bit more about the girlfriend and the brother and Mike Ehrmantraut, a former police officer working as a security agent with a troubled past. He’s as much of a treat as the main lead!

As an introducing season it’s great. It’s slow paced. But that’s a good thing. Sure, the thought of having to wait five more seasons to understand why this person ends up working at a Cinnabon is frustrating. But the characters are intriguing and everything is filmed, written and edited well. You want to watch season 2. It’s binge-worthy. But maybe, the whole crime aspect of the show may ruin it, like it did for Breaking Bad. Do we really want to watch yet another show about drug dealers?

www.imdb.com/title/tt3032476/

Picked up Modern Family again. Last time I saw a season was in 2014 !

Great guilty pleasure ! For every ‘meh’ moment, there are twice as many ‘haha’ moments.

Season 3 (**1/2)  isn’t as good as season 2, but each episode has enough laughs to make you continue watching. The episode in Disneyland is excellent though. with some hilarious scenes like the one where Dylan, dressed as Little John, tries to win back Haley. Classic! What’s really good about this show is that there is consistency. If you watch them in a row, you notice how some things get picked up again later in the show and references are made to what has happened before. This is not always the case in other sitcoms like Friends or Fresh Prince, in which there are a lot of inconsistencies. Phil and Luke’s relationship is great. Haley is pretty funny this season. Cameron and Mitchel are, well, a bickering couple that still have some great punch lines. Sophia is still great.

Season 4 (**1/2) is a tougher cookie. Not all episodes are great. Some get boring. Some characters get so annoying you just want to give up. But there are great guest acting parts that make it interesting. The stereotypical portrayal of a gay couple and a latino trophy wife is just nerve-racking. How many jokes can you make about a Columbian drugs & poverty escaping woman and camp effeminate gay men? It’s just always the same. Yawn.  However, some of the best scenes of the season feature Cameron/Mitchel and Sophia. (the heritage dinner discussion) And Cameron dressed like a character of Cats up on the tree is a classic. Every episode still makes you laugh at least a few times though.

Season 5 (**1/2) starts off really well, with some of the best episodes of the series. New characters get introduced and some reoccur more than before. It’s really strange how the show is pretty conservative. It’s representing a certain suburban upper middle class that isn’t really representative of real modern families out there. And the stereotypes! Even when they travel to Australia, they are able to only show stereotypes. Yet, Cameron is the football coach. Surprise. Not all episodes are good, but it ends with a great one (the wedding).

Just when you think season 6 (**1/2) isn’t all that exciting or funny anymore, there’s the episode where everyone thinks Haley got married in Vegas. Original and excellent. And the second half of the season has more real good episodes. Some characters seem to have lost their appeal though (Sophia!). And none of the new ones are great, apart from Andy maybe. But others are still awesome. Phil on top. The jokes and comments are quite sarcastic for a sitcom. In then years’ time a new generation will call them homophobic, racist and sexist. Like this generation is offended by some jokes in Friends (Friends!!). A friend who doesn’t know the show asked if it was Married With Children. 2.0. No.  It’s not that politically incorrect.

Three episodes into season 7 and I haven’t laughed yet. What’s wrong?

 

They showed the prestigious HBO series about the Chernobyl disaster on national tv last week. In the midst of the corona crisis lockdown.

It’s that show that you want to see, because so much has been written about it. And watching it now gives you extra thrills. While the covid-19 pandemic confronts us daily with a possible apocalyptic disaster and conspiracy theories, it’s interesting to see how a similar threat was dealt with 30+ years ago.

In 1986 an explosion at a nuclear plant near Kiev (Ukraine) threatened to devastate an entire area and possibly affect the entire European continent. But the catastrophe was contained and somehow forgotten quite soon. Yes, there are still memes going around that make fun of the effects of exposure to radioactivity (one that says ‘I went to Chernobyl and all I got was this lousy t-shirt’ and shows a t-shirt with several armholes). And yes, adventure travel reporters like to visit the area to see how dangerous it still is to walk around in the area. But apart from that, nobody really thinks about it that much.

Until now.

Sure, it’s an interesting series. It focuses on the actual diaster and tries to explain what really happened, but it also focuses on the efforts of getting it contained and the treatment of those who got exposed to the radio-activity. However, the series also wants to expose the cover-up of the Russian authorities. Which most likely happened, no doubt, but it gets annoying after a while. This soon feels like a fictionalized anti-Russian Cold War propaganda show from the eighties. With an underlying tone that a similar disaster in the West won’t happen and would have been dealt with differently. It’s an obvious angle, but it just feels biased. And the main reason for that is simple: the entire cast speaks British English! British English! Mineworkers, locals, doctors, scientists, state officials, Gorbatsjov! They all speak like they live in the UK! This happend in the Ukraine! The show shows Belarus and Russia. Yet, you don’t hear Russian or any other slavic language.

How is this possible? How is this believable? Apparently they didn’t want the actors to speak with Russian accents (thank God, that would have been even worse). but choosing British actors over Russian actors just is a crappy decision. It’s already annoying when Tom Cruise plays Graf von Stauffenberg in Valkyrie and doesn’t speak German.Or Willem Dafoe playing Van Gogh and not speaking any French or Dutch. Why are so many people incapable of reading subtitles? Why is it so difficult to find actors who at least speak the language of the characters they portray?

That aspect of the show is very distracting. By episode 4 you are still watching British actors interpret what people from the former USSR were experiencing. You’re still not feeling these characters at all. Apparently they are making a Russian series about the show, which will also be biased and which will focus on the patriotic heroism of the mine workers and others who stopped the diaster from spreading around Europe. It’ll also be propaganda, but at least it will feel more natural when they speak the original language!

Aaaaarrghhhhhh!

That said. Interesting stuff though. A bit slow, quite technical and too depressing, but intriguing. Yet, fictionalized and thus overrated. (check: https://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/chernobyl/)

www.imdb.com/title/tt7366338

 

After Life Season 2 – **

Posted: April 30, 2020 in 2020, Drama, TV series, UK, XX

Man, this is depressing.

The first episodes of Ricky Gervais’ serious dramedy about a man losing his wife to cancer and struggling with the loss, were great. They showed a different aspect of the British comedian, but were still filled with excellent humor and social commentary. These six episodes however lack the humor and commentary. Maybe once per episode there’s a hilarious moment, but overal it’s just very sad.

This is not the moment to watch sad tv shows. This is the moment to laugh and escape to absurd fiction. Not to harsh realities of losing people and dealing with grief. However positive the approach to it all may be.

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8398600/

The devastating First World War. Four years of chaos and death in Flanders Fields. And at the end there was the Spanish flu.

It’s quite surreal to watch this Flemish series during corona times. But it’s being removed from Netflix by the end of the month and the idea was to finish it before the many professional trips to Ypres next month.

The show is well filmed and there is much eye to detail. The research was done well and the period setting is great. But the over-abundance of storylines is getting annoying halfway into the show. World War I is a fascinating period in history and there are so many facets of the war that were never addressed in major Hollywood movies. But to pack them all into a ten episode series is just not good.

Even though it’s an international production, it is still a Flemish series and the focus is on the story of a Flemish family. This may not appeal to international audiences as they will not understand the many references. We see the family Boesman from Ghent at the outbreak of the war. Doctor Boesman is a gynecologist who wants to become a professor at the university and assumes the war will soon be over. His wife, who is part of the catholic bourgeoisie, is at his side. Their oldest son is ready to go to battle. Their younger son is more opportunist and prefers to stay home and continue his work as as sales person. The daughter is too young to do anything, but she aspires to be a doctor one day, like her dad.

The characters are intriguing and good guides through the thick storybook of little tales about the war. But at one point it’s enough. Everything is mentioned. Briefly and superficially.  The Flemish social pillar system (socialist/catholic/liberal); the subordinate role of women, the Flemish collaboration and resistance, the pop-up brothels for the English officers, the gas attacks, the smuggling, the espionage, the food shortage, the Christmas truces, the war tactics, … and they still add romance to it all as well.

To give you a spoiler example focussing on the daughter. She wants to become a doctor but can’t as a woman, betrays her best friend whose father is German, tries to run errands for the resistance, is attracted to the young German officer who occupies her house, smuggles something across the border to her Grandmother, has an abortion, flees to England, becomes a nurse, meets her brothers in battle, etc… She clearly is the main character of the show, but actress Lize Feryn can’t carry the show. Luckily she is assisted by two actors playing her parents. Wim Opbrouck is great as the collaborating gynecologist and Barbara Sarafian is at her best trying to support her husband’s bad decisions.

Unfortunately it’s not a must-see and even a drag by the end.

www.imdb.com/title/tt2253780

Confusing at first, but continuously intriguing as the series goes on, this third season of True Detective is a great watch.

Two kids get missing and detectives Hays and West have to figure out what happened when one of the children is found dead. During three different periods in time…  Once in 1980 when the crime happens. Another time in 1990 when a new element re-opens the case. And finally in 2015 when a true crime tv reporter wants to focus on the case by interviewing detective Hays, now in his seventies.

It’s slow and some of the dialogues sound wooden, but overall this is fascinating television. For starters, finally this is a crime story without a major plot twist at the end. It’s cool to actually feel rewarded for thinking along with the detectives. By episode 3 or so you kind of already know what happened and even though some details are missing, it’s great to see that what you are thinking is actually correct. This is great! Because that’s the most annoying thing about detective series: the ridiculous plot twists at the end. The end just makes sense. Which may be boring. But it’s great.

Secondly, the seventy year old detective Hays suffering from Alzheimers is another excellent addition to the story. The disease adds confusion to both the detective and the viewer, but also helps to concentrate on what is a real memory and what is not.

And ultimately, this is also a great depiction of relationships between people who seem to have a strong, yet unconventional bond. The partnership between the two detectives is captivating and the relationship between detective Hays and his wife is even more gripping. The professional and personal tensions between the characters are more exciting than the actual crime.

Maybe that’s the reason why this crime series is so great. The crime itself isn’t the main focus. And that’s what makes it different. And thus, good. However, this only works when the writing is clever and moreover when the acting is phenomenal. And that’s the case. Mahershala Ali is so incredibly good. He should have won awards for this part !!!!! That man is acting gold. Stephen Dorff is also impressive and should also be praised. Carmen Ejogo gives so much mystery to her character that it cannot just be directed. And Michael Graziadel only has two or three scenes, but the one in the bar is method acting perfection.

Yep.

Very much impressed.

ww.imdb.com/title/tt2356777

Quite disappointing, this second season. Whereas the first series was refreshing, this pretty much feels like it is too calculated.

Gillian Anderson’s sex therapist character is still great though. When there is an outbreak of chlamydia she is asked to come and be a sex counsellor in school. But that is interfering with the business of her son, who has been given sex advice for money on the school premises as well.

It is an interesting premise and episode 1 totally gets you in the same mood as the previous episodes. But soon something is lacking. Is it the acting? Is it the total absence of humor? Not sure, but the show stops being engaging soon. Not worthy of binge watching at all.

There are a few new characters and we get to learn more about some of the characters that weren’t in the spotlight of series one. But the main ones seem to have lost their charm. Which is sad.

The cliffhanger end doesn’t really make you look forward to what is coming next either. And that is too bad, because, on a positive note, it does prove that you can have a good show with an inclusive cast without constantly referring to the sexual and racial differences between kids. Anyone can be anything. This is one thing in which this show excells.

www.imdb.com/title/tt7767422

 

 

Almost the entire cast of The Crown changed for season 3. It takes a while before that kicks in. Olivia Coleman is a great actress, sure, but she isn’t Claire Foy, who excelled as Queen Elisabeth in the first series. Only by the final episode, you have to acknowledge that she does do a fine job. But it’s difficult to be charmed by her from the start. That’s because this season, the focus isn’t on her that much.

The acting is still great though. Helen Bonham Carter is quite exquisite as Princess Margaret and both Josh O’Connor and Erin Doherty do a great job as Prince Charles and Princess Anne.

The storytelling remains admirable. How each episode is scripted is very clever. However, the fiction takes over from the facts. And even though it’s great dramatic storytelling, it loses its credibility because a lot of it just isn’t true.

Even more than in the first twenty episodes, you want to google what is true and what is fictionalized. It’s distracting from watching the show. Did that really happen? Is this historically correct? These constant questions often get answered by a ‘no’.

It’ll be interesting to see season 4 which will have Margaret Tatcher and Princes Diana as main characters. This seventies show was okay, but not that fascinating. Apart from two episodes, which are set in Wales. Those are perfect television hours. Well written, well directed, well acted, well researched. More of that please.

www.imdb.com/title/tt4786824

You: Season 2 – **

Posted: January 16, 2020 in 2019, Crime/Detective, TV series, USA, XX

Damn.

This sequel is a drag. The first season was so good. Yet this time around the story doesn’t excite. Joe moves to LA, meets a new woman he falls in love with and starts to stalk. But that’s not the core of the story anymore.

Nothing is really the core of the story. There’s a bit of everything going on. Sure, that’s a good change from the first season where the love/stalk story was too present. But then again, that was also its coolness. Maybe it’s the setting. Los Angeles isn’t New York. And its inhabitants just aren’t quite like the ones of the Big Apple. Most of the new characters in this show are tiresome stereotypes of Angelenos. And that’s the biggest flaw.

Not a season to binge watch.

 

Thirty years ago a female jogger was left for dead after having been molested in Central Park, New York. During the same night a group of young kids had gathered in the park for some wilding, attacking and mugging random passers-by. The investigating police made a link between the two events and arrested dozens of these kids, interrogating them about the rape. Five kids were left to their own devices at the police station and somehow ended up confessing to crimes they didn’t commit. A mediatized trial followed and even though the kids were minor and there was a lack of evidence, all of them were sentenced to years in prison. Four were minors and got five years detention, starting in a juvenile centre. One was sixteen at the time of the events and went straight to the adult prison system.

Most Europeans, and a whole generation of Northern Americans as well, were unaware of this case until this four part series became one of the main releases on Netflix this year and received critical acclaim.

Unfortunately, by end of the year, so many articles have been written about this production, that it becomes very challenging to watch the series without expectations. Yes, it’s a great series and a must-see. But no, it’s not the best series of the decade. You want this to be a mix between The Wire and The People vs O.J. , but it is not. It’s way too short. It is generating more questions than providing answers. It’s a show that will stick with you days after having watched it. So, that’s good. But it does feel like so much more could have been told.

Episode 1 is tough to watch. The characters are introduced and you immediately find yourself in the same mess they get themselves into. Dozens of kids are arrested, yet there are five of them that are detained longer and coerced into admitting to a crime they didn’t commit. These kids were at the wrong place at the wrong time and didn’t get the support they needed. Easy victims for the interrogating police…. The creators of the series clearly want the viewer to feel empathy for the innocent kids and anger towards the judicial system. It works, but it also annoys. This is where the series is flawed. The kids are sweet and innocent and adorable even. The police, judges and prosecutors are heartless monsters. It’s predictable tv making. This is also where an hour episode just isn’t enough.

Episode 2 is better. However as a court room drama it is not detailed enough. This is very intriguing stuff. We get snippets of the story. We learn that each kid had a different lawyer. We learn that each family of these kids deals differently with the accusations. We learn about the discussions amongst the prosecutors. We get to see some witnesses. All very briefly. This may have been the way the accused kids saw the trial (and it’s their story), but as a viewer you want to learn more. What about the jurors? The judge? This part of the story needs an 8 episode series alone.

The second half of the series is excellent though. In the third episode the show focuses on how the four minors get released from detention and have to struggle all over again. It’s a sad episode, but a very necessary one, because it focuses on how getting out of prison isn’t always a gift and how it’s very hard to rehabilitate in society. Episode 4 focusses entirely on the story of the one kid that was sent to adult prison and it is superb television, mainly because of the tour de force of Jharrel Jerome, who deservedly won an Emmy for his performance.

The acting in this series is top-notch. It makes up for the fragmented storytelling. Whoever did the casting deserves another award. A special shout out to Asante Blackk (playing the kid who is left alone at the police station: the moment you realize this will be a tough watch), Caleel Harris (the kid who is forced to lie by his own dad!), Niecy Nash (the troubled mother of the kid who will suffer the most) and Michael Kenneth Williams (the dad who told his kid to lie and has to suffer the consequences) !

www.imdb.com/title/tt7137906/

This is a good introduction to the case and the series: