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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Dyin' La VIDA Loca

Article first published as TV Review: VIDA on Seat42F.


Starz premiered a pair of two new half hour shows this week. While traditionally half hour programs are comedies, Starz has broken that mold more than once, and VIDA, one of the newbies, is certainly a drama. When the titular character dies, unseen by viewers, sisters Emma (Mishel Prada, Fear the Walking Dead: Passage) and Lyn (Melissa Barrera, Siempre Tuya Acapulco) return home for the funeral and to take care of her affairs. But secrets come out and circumstances conspire to keep the two tied to the Eastside of Los Angeles, the heavily Mexican-American neighborhood they grew up in.

Prada and Barrera are excellent as the two siblings at the center of VIDA. Their interactions reveal gobs of backstory. While much of their rocky relationship seems familiar and relatable, they are fully formed individuals, not stock characters. This allows us to both quickly understand the dynamic between them, but also not to give away a predictable story. The best scenes of the pilot are any time the two of them are talking to one another. Thankfully the premise sets this up to be a big part of the series.

Their first obstacle, and probably the biggest they face, is that their mother’s property is to be split three ways, not two. The reveal that Vida’s roommate, Eddy (Ser Anzoategui, East Los High), is actually her widow is far from a surprise, obvious from the moment the character is introduced. But despite the stereotype the character visually appears to be, she quickly reveals herself to be a more rounded personality, sympathetic and warm. Eddy is much more than a side player, and her existence plays into a lot of possibilities moving forward. Hopefully, VIDA will give her as much prominence as the other two.

More of a trope is Johnny (Carlos Miranda, The Bling Ring), Lyn’s ex who is engaged to the mother of his soon-to-be-born child, but who of course falls right back into sexual relations with Lyn. This is a very overdone type, and not one I’ve ever encountered in real life. He is there to add tension, but unless they develop him beyond the superficial, and they may, there’s not much point in having him around beyond how he informs on Lyn’s character.

The wild card is Johnny’s sister, Mari (Chelsea Rendon, Bright), who is a rebel with some causes, seemingly. She is fighting back against the gentrification of the neighborhood, though she is doing so in such an extreme way that it’s clear she won’t succeed. Not that one would expect any single person to be able to stop a trend like this, but she is going about it in probably the least productive way. After episode one, it’s not clear exactly how she will figure into the sisters’ tale, though given their desire to sell the bar and apartment building their mother owned, there will likely be a bit of overlap.

I liked VIDA, but I didn’t love it. The characters and world are very specific, in a good way, with a well-defined universe to exist in. There is representation in the cast and story that don’t often show up on television, and the social issues raised are timely and important. There pacing is fine, and the direction is interesting. It feels like an indie drama film about a family, stretched out a bit.

Yet, it lacked a strong hook. I’m curious about what will happen next, but there’s not a character that stands out or a part that really draws focus to latch onto. The evenness of the quality is generally a good thing as a show goes on, but the pilot needs something special to really make a broader audience take notice. I can’t say I really saw that in the first episode of VIDA. Though, at only six episodes in the first season, and the apparent quality of the production, it’s probably worth giving it a chance.

VIDA airs Sundays on Starz.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

THE HANDMAID'S TALE Continues

Article first published as TV Review: THE HANDMAID'S TALE Season 2 on Seat42F.


Hulu’s THE HANDMAID’S TALE is back for a second season this week. The streaming service released two episodes last Wednesday, with additional installments spooling out weekly over the coming months. The tale of women in a strongly religious, male-dominated society continues, and we immediately get to see different corners of the world than previously shown. Viewers finally witness what life is like at the dreaded colonies first-hand, as well as get a glimpse at an underground railroad-type situation for ladies fleeing their forced fate. Somehow, none of the shock value has worn off, as things get darker still.

June Osborne, a.k.a. Offred (Elisabeth Moss), is left in a precarious position last season, having led a peaceful protest against Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) to save Janine’s (Madeline Brewer) life. Aunt Lydia promised consequences, and they unfold right at the start of episode one. While the actual threat is obviously just that, merely a threat, as fertile women are too precious a resource in this reality to waste, it’s easy to see how the victims of it would be terrified, believing it real. They’ve been treated so poorly and terrorized so much, they can be forgiven for not thinking the situation through logically.

June herself, however, is spared as soon as her pregnancy becomes known. This gets into a psychological game, as June is immune from some, but not all punishment, and she is still vulnerable to being shamed in front of the others. Or is she? We know June has a strong fortitude, and her battle of wills with Aunt Lydia, much of it non-verbal, is gripping in this initial hour. June has additional scenes throughout both installments where Moss shines with physical performance and facial expression.

Episode two divides its time between some former newspaper offices, where horrible acts were carried out, and one of the colonies, where Emily (Alexis Bledel) has been sent for hard labor. I’m not sure what I pictured the colonies as being like, but the bleak, desolate, radiation-filled landscape is not exactly it. This feels even sadder, more isolated, than I imagined, and life is extremely hard there. A subplot involving a new arrival at the colony (Marisa Tomei, The Big Short) is moving and shocking, but also feels a little bit satisfying, which is needed every now and then in the series.

One thing that is different about THE HANDMAID’S TALE from other shows is that it saves all its credits for the end, so you’ll never know which characters will be showing up. This works very well in this particular program, as it allows a larger element of surprise. The end credits also only list the stars of that particular hour, so Alexis Bledel’s name isn’t in the premiere, leaving you to wonder how much she’ll be involved in the season. Similarly, Yvonne Strahovski and Joseph Fiennes aren’t in the second hour, so their names aren’t present. Will they be back? Who knows? There is a freedom for the story to go anywhere without being beholden to past places and characters when even the central cast isn’t listed in this manner.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE continues its customary flashbacks in both parts. Normally, this is a conceit in a television show I would grow tired of pretty quickly. And there are times in these initial offerings where it’s easy to become impatient, wanting to get back to the main timeline. However, Emily’s bit in episode two is particularly moving, and both episodes help fill in exactly how this oppressive regime was able to take power, thankfully shown indirectly. It’s helpful for understanding the situation, and also as a warning not to allow current political forces to move in the same direction. It’s uncomfortably easy to imagine how it might.

THE HANDMAID’S TALE remains powerful, timely, and intensely compelling. Watch it exclusively on Hulu.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

LOST IN SPACE Again

Article first published as TV Review: LOST IN SPACE on Seat42F.


Amid a flurry of reboots and revivals, Netflix rolled out a brand-new version of LOST IN SPACE this week. A sort of sci-fi Swiss Family Robinson, the current series, like the original, finds the Robinsons crash-landing on an alien world. With no way off and only so many supplies, they will have to rely on one another and adapt to the environment. Of course, they have the help of Robbie the Robot and must watch out for the nefarious Dr. Smith.

The new LOST IN SPACE looks fantastic. That shouldn’t be surprising, as recent television series have been able to make good on special effects, even with a small screen budget. The world looks fantastical, the technology is cool, and Robbie himself is fully CGI-ed. The sequences with the spaceship are stunning, and I had no problem believing the setting as it is shown.

The story is, as it should be, focused on family dynamics. In this iteration, flashbacks are used to show us the Robinsons were far from perfectly happy prior to events. Father John (Toby Stephens, Black Sails), often away on military missions, was well on the way to divorce with his brilliant wife, Maureen (Molly Parker, House of Cards), who was tired of keeping the home running without him. Elder daughter Judy (Taylor Russell, Falling Skies) was totally devoted to the clan, even willing to give up escaping a dying Earth if her little brother, Will (Maxwell Jenkins, Sense8), couldn’t go, too. But that left middle child Penny (Mina Sundwall, Maggie’s Plan) unsure of her own place.

This is more nuanced and interesting than the original. LOST IN SPACE lacks the cheese it was previously known for, and instead attempts a more ambitious, modern narrative. This is extended to the supporting players, including a faux Dr. Smith (Parker Posey, A Mighty Wind) whose intentions are kept hidden from the audience and other characters. And by keeping it focused on the family, viewers only get things outside the scope of their experience in tidbits, leaving a lot of questions to be answered in small spurts over a longer period of time.

Most of these adjustments are good and needed, but where it feels a little weird is in Robbie the Robot himself. By the end of the first hour, we’ve met Robbie, but there are some pretty big questions surrounding him that make him hard to trust. This adds some uncertainty and threat, and yet it’s hard to believe any LOST IN SPACE would not make it turn out all right. Given Robbie’s pop-culture status, it seems odd to treat him this way. It also makes his uttering of the iconic catchphrase feel forced and jarringly out of place, especially as he doesn’t say much before or after.

It seems unlikely that any member of the Robinson clan will die even though they are surrounded by things that are trying to kill them. That doesn’t gel all that well with the complex serial story. (Individual episodes have some procedural plot, but there is definitely an important ongoing element.) Audiences of this kind of show are used to there being some sort of cost or sacrifice over time, and LOST IN SPACE doesn’t really make room for that in sticking with the family framework.

The result of all this is something pleasant and entertaining, but lacking the teeth needed to make it a fully realized and compelling story. It’s pretty good television, not great television. Which would have been fine ten years ago, but may leave it struggling to find a passionate fan base in this day and age.

LOST IN SPACE’s ten episode first season is available now on Netflix.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

KILLING EVE Slays

Article first published as TV Review: KILLING EVE on Seat42F.



WARNING: Some relatively light spoilers contained within.

BBC America’s newest drama, premiering tonight, is KILLING EVE. Based on Luke Jennings’ Villanelle novellas, the series is essentially a cat-and-mouse game between a serial killer and a super smart intelligence agent. While that does sound a bit done-to-death as a premise, the lead performers, their individual personalities, and the dynamic between them, makes this one highly compelling and totally worth watching. With some great supporting characters, a few stereotypes tossed on their heads, and beautiful settings throughout Europe, it is one I can definitely recommend.

KILLING EVE takes its time getting started. When we first meet Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh, Grey’s Anatomy), she is working as an assistant at MI-5. Although she is smart and obsessed with female serial killers, she doesn’t have much authority to investigate. When she raises solid, valid points to her superiors, they are quickly shot down. This obviously can’t be where she operates from for the course of the series, but it’s not until episode two where she really settles down into what will be her base of operations, in the role she needs to front this story.

On the other hand, the hired assassin, Villanelle (Jodie Comer, Doctor Foster), is pretty much fully formed from the beginning. Traipsing across the continent towards whatever target she is sent to next, she enjoys her job and is very good at it. Villanelle isn’t the master of her destiny, but she acts like she is, rebelling when those who would direct her do things she doesn’t agree with. She is probably insane, definitely psychopathic, and also highly intelligent. I wouldn’t want her attention on me.

The two women do cross paths directly early on, which is appreciated, rather than keeping them apart for a very long time, as one might expect the series to do. The scene is magnetic, and communicates much of what the rest of the season will surely be, layered with delicious, beautiful tension. While they really don’t start their personal game until the very end of the second hour, this meeting helps drive through all the set up, hooking viewers early on, rather than making them wait until the plot is fully formed.

Comer and Oh are fantastic, and while they steal focus in every scene, they have plenty of help to build up the world. Kim Bodnia (The Bridge) manages to convey danger and threat while appearing not at all dangerous and threatening. David Haig (Penny Dreadful) plays the epitome of mentor, knowing what buttons to push to properly guide and motivate Eve, while also seeming like an every man, in a good way. Fiona Shaw (the Harry Potter films), always excellent, is terrifically understated here. Owen McDonnell (An Klondike) plays the supportive husband as more than just a trope, someone who both truly understands and doesn’t at all get his wife, Eve. Kirby Howell-Baptiste (Barry) is just plain fun at this point. Together, they effectively help sell the show.

KILLING EVE is on BBC America, and I’d say it shares some DNA with one of the network’s best former series, Orphan Black. It has a similar dark tone, with a slightly offbeat story and a solid ensemble. Once again, it’s a magnetic female lead, two this time, that will be the number one reason to watch, while giving them a fleshed-out framework to be supported by. Other than that it once more involves law enforcement and a criminal, a conceit extremely overused on modern television, this is a really great series, and definitely one I want to continue watching. Thankfully, it’s already been renewed for a second season.

KILLING EVE premieres tonight on BBC America.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

THE TERROR

Article first published as TV Review: THE TERROR on Seat42F.


THE TERROR comes to television at a time when there are a great many “true story” dramas on television. Given that this show is about an actual boat, two boats really, called Terror and Erebus, that went missing in the Arctic Sea in the 1840s, it is a logical conclusion to make that the events portrayed actually happened, at least in part. Especially because quite a bit was found from these lost ships.

However, the AMC series is not claiming to be true, nor does it take many of its cues from real life. It is an adaptation of a novel, also called The Terror, by Dan Simmons, in which supernatural horror mixes with reality. This historical fiction is meant to be a good companion for The Walking Dead, still the network’s (and scripted television’s) most popular show. Whether it’s scary or gory enough to run in those circles, well, you can make that determination yourself.

The cast is headlined by some familiar faces. Ciaran Hinds (Game of Thrones) plays Captain John Franklin, the man in charge of the expedition, whose poor decision gets the ships stuck in ice before the first hour is over. He is assisted by a bunch of officers, primary first mate Francis Crozier (Jared Harris, The Crown) and second mate James Fitzjames (Tobias Menzies, Outlander). The show is slow to really distinguish many of the characters as individuals, but these three do lend it some heft that will buy the series some time to find its footing. Though I couldn’t tell you much else about anyone else in the cast.

The tone of the piece is pretty cool. The cold is well communicated in both design and performance, likely to give some in the audience chills just from watching. There’s also an underlying feeling of dread from start to finish of the first hour, giving you chills of a different sort. The isolated, dark, desolate locale the ships are traveling through effectively sets the right mood. It feels like there’s always something lurking around the corner, like death could occur at any time. And it occasionally does.

Without having read the novel, I do not know what is coming, other than that all hands were lost (going by historical events). Some people may be hesitant to get too attached to any of the characters, knowing their demise is certain. But without knowing who will go and when, THE TERROR is good at building tension, keeping you on the edge of your seat. Which is the point.

THE TERROR doesn’t seem to have much of a mission beyond that. Since it’s a fictional take, it doesn’t inform the viewer. The pacing is slow and character development seems minimal. The focus is less on building a fully realized world and cast of characters than having some highly qualified performers fill screen time until the series gets around to killing them off. The names at the top of the cast list (the three above) are likely to be some of the last ones just for that reason.

And that’s why I have trouble recommending THE TERROR. I enjoyed it, sure, and I may watch more of it simply because I like both history and the actors. But I don’t think the writers are really giving us a full story. It’s a valid choice to write for the situation, not the players, but it makes for a far less compelling narrative. Will anyone even care when any of the leads depart this life? I’m not sure. Other shows offer more, so that knocks this one down the priority list, even though it does expertly set a tone.

THE TERROR airs Mondays on AMC.

Friday, March 30, 2018

A Matter of TRUST.

Article first published as TV Review: TRUST on Seat42F.


FX’s newest anthology series is TRUST. No, it’s not another Ryan Murphy production, though you should be forgiven for thinking so, given the network and similarities. TRUST., created by Simon Beaufoy and directed by Danny Boyle, concerns the Getty family, an infamous clan of oil tycoons, the head of which was once considered one of (if not the) richest man in the world. The first season’s ten-episode run specifically covers the kidnapping of the patriarch’s grandson, J. Paul Getty III, in the mid-1970s. Subsequent seasons are expected to show other periods in the family’s history.

The first hour, which premiered last night, is essentially an introduction to the main guy, J. Paul Getty (Donald Sutherland, M*A*S*H, The Hunger Games), his relationship with his sons, and a brief encounter with one grandson. It does a solid job illustrating the unrest in the family, and how J. Paul Getty sees J.P.G. III (Harris Dickinson, Clique) as the last chance to pass his dynasty on to his heirs. When III disappoints his grandfather in a major way, as the senior’s children have before, the old man is furious. He casts III out, without care for the debt the younger man owes some very bad people. This is the set up for the kidnapping.

The Gettys are a real family, but much license is being taken with their story. Trying to trace various family members and their relationships, it seems the timeline doesn’t quite add up to real life. One family member is even suing the production, say it’s extremely inaccurate. It’s hard to know what TRUST. gets right or wrong, but the credits do admit that some things have been changed and personalities combined, so while it’s entertaining, I wouldn’t necessarily take it as a history lesson.

There are quite a few good actors in TRUST., including Michael Esper (Nurse Jackie), Brendan Fraser (The Mummy) and Hillary Swank (Million Dollar Baby). But in the pilot, it’s a two-man show. Sutherland hasn’t lost a step with age, simmering as the sleazy mogul, showing both the reprehensible parts of the personality and his vulnerabilities. Sadly, there are few redeeming qualities, but as despicable as the man is in this show, Sutherland is still immensely watchable. Dickinson matches him in the less central, but vitally important, role, which is only slightly more likeable.

There seems to be quite an appetite for ‘true stories’ of scandals recently. TRUST. should nicely add to the offerings of that genre. It’s well produced, well directed, and the sets are amazing. It’s a big production for a very personal story, the trappings of wealth not making the characters less vulnerable to reality. If anything, it makes them more so. As separate as they are from everyone else, and as outlandish and hard to relate to as some of the things they do may be, there is definitely a core story that will resonate, true or not, with many viewers.

The disappointing thing about the rumored second season, which TRUST. seems sure to get with material this good that fits perfectly on the network, is that Sutherland won’t be as front-and-center, as supposedly we’ll see J. Paul Getty coming up, some forty years before the first run. One can only hope they tell the story in flashback, with framework sequences involving Sutherland. I don’t normally like this conceit all that much, as it’s overdone and usually unnecessary. But Sutherland is a big part of why I would recommend this show, so I would hate to lose him from the series. And whoever fills his shoes will have to be most impressive indeed.

TRUST. airs Sunday nights on FX.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

BARRY, Barry, Quite Contrary

Article first published as TV Review: BARRY on Seat42F.


BARRY, a new comedy on HBO, is the story of a hitman named Barry who accidentally attends an acting class and decides he wants more from his life than being an anonymous killer. Starring Saturday Night Live’s Bill Hader in the title role, BARRY is more than just a dark comedy. It’s the story of a man who has been manipulated and lost, looking to figure out who he is and take hold of his own path once more. But it’s not so easy to quit being a murderer, especially when your boss doesn’t want to let you go.

Hader is excellent and understated in the role. Known for playing over-the-top characters, as most SNL vets are, Barry is a quieter role for the actor. The character description is colorful, but in actuality, Barry is awkward in a calm way. He isn’t a good actor, but we find that out not through a huge, splashy screw up, but from quick, low line reads. Even his breakdown at the end of the first episode is more moving than loud, giving us a glimpse into the tortured soul. It’s a little exposition-heavy, but it tells viewers frankly who Barry is and why.

The premise is goofy, but it isn’t played as such. The criminals are deadly serious. The actors are hopelessly earnest. The acting teacher, a terrific turn by Henry Winkler (Happy Days, Arrested Development), is a familiar type, but because he’s played by Winkler, will surely be more than that. In tone, it is closer to other HBO series than something on a broadcast network. But it isn’t as quirky as some of its peers.

Where the show gets the biggest is in the violence, but those sequences are quick, not drawn out. The blood probably isn’t more than there would be in real life. Interestingly, the first time a dead body is shown, we just see Barry in the aftermath, and there’s a certain amount of disconnect between him as he is portrayed and the scene. Later, we witness his true skills, and we see why Fuches (Stephen Root, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Justified) doesn’t want to let Barry quit.

There’s also a bit of a love story between Barry and his enthusiastic classmate, Sally (Sarah Goldberg, Hindsight). But again, it’s more of a subtle thing. I mean, the attraction, at least on his end, is obvious. But it’s not like they talk about it or spend needless minutes flirting. Barry is too socially inept to say anything to her, and she just seems like a warm, welcoming person. I hope BARRY doesn’t go there with them, as the journey will be richer if it’s just about Barry’s inner growth, and not fueled by sexual chemistry. But it seems quite likely that this will be dealt with more overtly later.

I admit, I’m surprised to see Hader in a role and program like this. It’s true that some of the best comedic performers make great dramatic actors because they understand human emotion on a deep level. Hader appears to be no exception, creating an odd character that is both familiar and unique. I’m very interested in the portrait of the man being painted here, story aside, though the narrative is intriguing, too. It seems the perfect vehicle for him, like Flaked was for Will Arnett, showcasing range in a part that didn’t feel like a natural next step for the actor, but it quickly becomes apparent no one else could play it on the same level.

I don’t want to oversell it. I don’t think BARRY is the next huge hit. But I do think it’s a worthy premium cable entry that will make for a fascinating watch.

BARRY airs Sundays at 10:30PM ET on HBO.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Journey to KRYPTON

Article first published as TV Review: KRYPTON on Seat42F.


Are you tired of all the superhero television shows out right now? If you aren’t, SyFy has a new entry in the genre called KRYPTON. And if you are tired of them, KRYPTON might be something a bit different, since it takes place on the alien world two centuries before the birth of Superman. Hence, it’s not a bunch of people with powers running around. If tonally it didn’t feel so similar to other SyFy programming, I would say this is a very unique take on what has become a saturated market, giving it a hook to allow it to break through. As it is, it’s still pretty good.

As only a casual Superman fan (with basic knowledge primarily from movies and TV, not the comics), KRYPTON is a completely new story, full of things I’d never heard of, so I don’t know if it follows established mythology or is something original. Either would be a valid choice for a show to make, but I don’t know if it’s a very loose reimagining, like Gotham, or if it sticks close to previously established backstory. A cursory internet search seems to indicate the latter, with some liberties taken.

KRYPTON begins with Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe, The Halcyon) watching his grandfather (Ian McElhinney, Game of Thrones) executed and his family stripped of their title. The House of El is no more, and Seg and his parents are forced to live with the un-titled down in the ghettos of the city. Years later, Seg is coming of age and, despite family grudges, saves the life of Daron-Vex (Elliot Cowan, Da Vinci’s Demons), the chief magistrate who executed Seg’s grandfather. Daron offers Seg the chance to join the House of Vex and bind with his daughter, Nyssa (Wallis Day, Hollyoaks), the youngest of five, who otherwise probably wouldn’t marry anyway. This might be an opportunity for Seg to climb back up the social ladder, or it could be Daron’s chance to fully conquer the Els once and for all.

If that doesn’t sound complicated enough, don’t worry, it gets even more twisty within the first hour. See, Seg may be making a child with Nyssa (which does not involve sex), but is sleeping with Lyta Zod (Georgina Campbell, Broadchurch), a soldier. And Seg’s parents, Ter (Rupert Graves, Sherlock) and Charys (Paula Malcomson, Caprica), are secretly continuing Seg’s grandfather’s work to try to save their race. Also, Adam Strange (Shaun Sipos, The Vampire Diaries) arrives from the future to warn of Brainiac’s (Blake Ritson, Da Vinci’s Demons) impending coming, the villain intending to destroy Krypton before Superman can even be born. So there’s a LOT packed into this series opener, and I haven’t even mentioned all the series leads.

It takes some time to get into KRYPTON. Not only is there a dense story, but the society is so much different than ours. The caste system feels very outdated, even while the planet is futuristic. Procreation without physical intercourse and babies raised in bubbles cared for by machines feel cold and impersonal, which matches much of the rest of the culture we’re seeing. Except in the lower class, which still parties and fights and loves at will. Is this a cautionary tale or a commentary? The refusal of some to listen to science and fact hits a little too close to home in the current political climate.

All of this is very interesting, and I found myself more and more drawn in as it played out. Where my hesitation lives is that most of the central characters are good looking, very young adults, an overdone television trope, and the tone of the program is not as weighty as it could be with the material. I hope it finds its legs, but I fear it will be a ‘typical’ Syfy show lost in the crowd.

KRYPTON airs Wednesdays on SyFy.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

JONES-ing For Some JESSICA

Article first published as TV Review: JESSICA JONES Season 2 on Seat42F.


Marvel’s JESSICA JONES is finally back for a second season on Netflix! The more-than-two-year wait between seasons can be explained by the aggressive Marvel Netflix production schedule, which saw four additional shows premiere since then, including a team-up between Jessica and other heroes, and a second season of an older series, Daredevil. With crossovers between the casts, it would be difficult to shoot them all at once. Though given how quickly the shows are being released now, I wouldn’t expect such a long break the next time.

Back to the series at hand, JESSICA JONES seems not to have missed a step as it begins season two. Jessica (Krysten Ritter) is haunted by the fact that she killed Kilgrave, making her, in her mind, a killer. To cope, she’s drinking a LOT, even for her, and refusing cases she might develop an emotional attachment to. Her sister, Trish (Rachael Taylor), has taken the opposite tact, jumping fully into investigating the past, though admittedly Trish didn’t murder anyone. And Malcolm (Eka Darville) tries to build up Alias Investigations as a business, despite its salty owner. Even Simpson (Wil Traval) pops up to show us how he’s doing after the events of last season.

It seems like not as much time has passed in the world of JESSICA JONES as it has in the real world, but that’s OK. Some time has gone by, and big events stick with you for weeks, months, even years. So it makes total sense that the emotional state of many of the players is influenced by season one, even if it’s been a bit.

Speaking of emotions, despite her estrangement from Jessica, Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss) remains very much a part of the series. Her scenes are separate as she deals with some very tough medical news in not-so-healthy ways. But I’m interested to see where she will tie into the central story.

Season two doesn’t have such a clear villain to focus on as Kilgrave was. Instead, there’s a shady company known as IGH that seems to serve as the antagonist. But it doesn’t come out of nowhere. These are the people that gave Jessica, and others, powers. There’s a twenty-day span spent in their care that Jessica doesn’t remember. Why did they release her? What was their purpose? Jessica doesn’t know and so we don’t, though it seems certain we will find out as time goes on, especially with Trish on the case.

It isn’t necessarily a novel idea to dig into a lead character’s past to mine drama. But given how detached Jessica is in her daily life, it feels like a good road to go down for her. She isn’t going to speak her feelings to anyone, nor the audience, so by placing her in a position where she’s forced to confront her internal struggles, JESSICA JONES lets us learn a lot about the character. Physical artifacts force their journey along to nice effect. It’s far more interesting than just seeing her fight some baddie.

JESSICA JONES is the story of more than one broken character, but each have their own unique story. While they cross many times, there’s also a feeling of aloneness more present than with some of the ensemble casts of other series, even other Marvel Netflix series. This alone-while-with-someone take is something many viewers can relate to. Seeing Jessica, Trish, Malcolm, and Jeri deal with it also inspires us in a way heroes don’t usually do. JESSICA JONES shows us a different kind of inspiration, and it’s welcome.

Given the complex story and the deep emotional content, even though I’ve only viewed two hours thus far, it seems certain JESSICA JONES will maintain its quality through a second run. Even if it’s hard not to miss the magnetic persona of Kilgrave, whose specter hangs over the story.

JESSICA JONES season two is available now on Netflix.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Too HARD SUN

Article first published as TV Review: HARD SUN on Seat42F.



Hulu premiered all six episodes of a new drama called HARD SUN last week. A co-production with the BBC, HARD SUN follows two cops in a pre-apocalyptic world. Yes, pre-, not post-. An event known only as “hard sun” (hence the title of the show) is being kept secret by the government, even though it predicts an extinction-level event in a mere five years time. As more people begin to find out about it and react, our heroes not only have to continue to do their jobs keeping the peace, but they also get drawn into the conspiracy coverup.

HARD SUN sounds like a really neat idea. After all, so much time has been spent examining how people would deal with the aftermath of a big event. It’s cool to finally get into the psychology of how they would react when the disaster is looming, but has not yet arrived. Painting it as a secret that leaks out and is, at first, only believed by conspiracy nuts makes it all the more intriguing because the series can take its time getting around to various types of people reacting differently to the news.

The problem is, HARD SUN doesn’t really delve into the psychiatry so much as uses it as a distraction from the main story. Several of the six hours are mostly made up of our leads trying to catch a bad guy doing something horrible because he (always he) believes the world is ending. This could be very interesting if the focus wasn’t just on catching him, or if there were more variation in the execution. But despite some good guest star turns here, these stories are mostly unsatisfying and seem to just be in the way of getting back to the plot most viewers will care more about. This is the way a 22-episode network season would stretch things out; it doesn’t work for a six-episode short season.

The through line story is pretty good, but HARD SUN spends too much time ignoring it. DCI Charlie Hicks (Jim Sturgess, Feed the Beast) is a complicated man. He cares deeply for people and wants to protect them, and has done some pretty bad things while pursuing that goal. His new partner, DI Elaine Renko (Agyness Deyn, Hail, Caesar!), is put in place specifically to catch him, until she bonds with him during their duties. She also has her own issues, with a violent son she loves, despite the fact that he tried to kill her. This baggage is pretty inconvenient when Hicks and Renko have to spend so much time avoiding would-be assassins from MI5, in particular Grace Morrigan (Nikki Amuka-Bird, Luther).

That is a LOT of story just for our two leads, so having to watch them do their jobs around it is too much. HARD SUN should have just focused on the complex set of circumstances they built, and if we saw Hicks and Renko working at all, keep it to routine duties or a single case, not extra-complicated serial killers.

I admit, I was caught up in HARD SUN, watching all six hours before sitting down to write this review. Part of the reason I waited was to see if the end paid off the time spent slogging through the middle hours. It does, with bright promise for a second season, should one be ordered. But that doesn’t change the criticism above, which still stands upon completion. I expected a bit more from writer Neil Cross, who is best known for his excellent British crime series, Luther.

Also, HARD SUN is very graphically violent. If that bothers you, you might want to skip it.

HARD SUN season one is available now on Hulu.