Title: A Series of Unfortunate Events
Release Dates: 2017
Number of Episodes: 8
The adaptation of the Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler) novels is a great success, capturing the humor, tragedy, and pedagogy of the Baudelaire orphans sad tale. It’s been over a decade since I read the books, but the tv show appears to be largely to the books with the exception of the introduction of some characters and the themes of the VFD that actually play a bigger role later in the series (not a bad idea for the tv show). Neil Patrick Harris gets a lot of attention for his performance as the evil Count Olaf, and he chews the scenery in a way that will delight most viewers (although I can also see how he could irritate some). The thing is, NPH isn’t even the best thing about this show. The main cast of young actors includes Malina Weissman as Violet, Louis Hynes as Klaus, and the greatest baby actor ever in Presley Smith as Sunny. Patrick Warburton offers a dry delivery of the narration as Lemony Snicket and K. Todd Freeman is the forever clueless, and coughing, Mr. Poe. The guest cast includes spectacular performances by Joan Cusack, Aasif Mandvi, Alfre Woodard, Don Johnson, Catherine O’Hara, and Rhys Darby. And kudos for the diversity in the casting decisions not necessarily indicated in the source material. The surreal sets and the brightly-colored costumes lend an unworldly effect to the Snicketverse. This is a brilliant show, and despite the warning from the opening title song to “Look Away,” this is definitely a show to watch and enjoy.
Release Dates: 2017
Number of Episodes: 3
Since 2010, the BBC has presented the reimagined adventures of Sherlock Holmes set in modern-day London starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. John Watson. It may sound facile, but after watching this fourth season, I wish the show had stuck with telling stories of two men solving mysteries. It seems that this show has gone from being about a man with remarkable abilities in gritty, everyday London to being a show about a man with superpowers in a fantasy world paralleling our own.
The purpose of each episode in this series seems to be to put a character through emotional and physical torment and see how they react – Mary (Amanda Abbington) in “The Six Thatchers,” John in “The Lying Detective,” and Sherlock in “The Final Problem.” It’s a credit to the acting talent of these actors (and others in supporting roles) that the show remains compelling to watch, but the absence of story (and mystery and adventure) is clearly missing in this series. That the series is a set of three 90-minute “feature-length” episodes doesn’t help as the emotional and character arcs would be developed better over a longer series.
The end of the series appears to be resetting Sherlock to its original “Holmes/Watson solve a mystery premise,” while at the same time rumors are swirling that the show is now at an end. I do hope it returns, because it is still a compelling show to watch, but I hope the showrunners and writers take some time to rest and reconsider before creating another series.
Title: Stranger Things
Release Dates: 2016
Number of Episodes: 8
The hit of the summer is an homage to horror and thrillers of the 1980s, mixing the film aesthetic of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter with Stephen King’s “kids and monsters in Maine” formula transferred to Indiana. There are also elements of later works like Twin Peaks, Donnie Darko (itself a 1980s pastiche), and Broadchurch among others. Despite the effort to emulate the eighties ethos, Stranger Things is not a remake or a ripoff but a highly original work of its own. I don’t think a show this sophisticated would be made in the 1980s and the movies of that time would not have the time to develop the characters and the relationships so well. Movies in the 1980s would also rely on wowing the audience with special effects, but Stranger Things creates suspense by keeping most of the supernatural elements offscreen and in the imagination.
What’s great about Stranger Things is that it has three concurrent plots with different themes. A 12-year-old, Will Byers, goes missing and his best friends Mike, Dustin, and Lucas go looking for him to be joined by the mysterious Eleven who has telekinetic powers, learning about friendship and forgiveness. A teenage story features Will’s brother Jonathon forming an unlikely alliance with Mike’s sister Nancy to hunt down the monster with Nancy’s boyfriend Steve acting as antagonist and sometimes ally. Finally, the adult story focuses on Will’s mother Joyce and police chief Hopper realizing that Will’s disappearance is not a typical runaway or abduction case and involves malicious behavior at the government’s Hawkins Lab.
The whole series is 8 episodes of brilliance – great acting, plotting, pacing, and dialogue – with a few scares thrown in. It’s worthy of the accolades it’s receiving and I recommend watching it if you haven’t checked it out yet.
Title: BoJack Horseman
Release Dates: August 2014
Number of Episodes: 12
This is a show with a big premise, a world in which anthropomorphic animals live and work among humans. One of them, BoJack Horseman, was the star of a popular 1990s sitcom in which a horseman adopts human children. In the current day, BoJack is a washed-up drunk, living in a Hollywood mansion and trying to regain his relevancy by writing his autobiography. In the first episode Diane Nyugen is introduced as his ghostwriter, and their relationship is the core of the season.
The show is deeply satirical and is reminiscent of The Simpsons, 30 Rock, and It’s Garry Shandling’s Show! for it’s combination of satire, spoof, sight gags, and sensitivity. There are a lot of gags and it’s funny when a anthropomorphic animal character acts on their animal instinct. But there’s a lot of serious undertones to this show as well, and it’s often just as heartbreaking as it is funny.
Title: Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Release Dates: July 2015
Number of Episodes: 8
Gonna try something new here. Since I’ve been binge-watching tv shows on Netflix and elsewhere, I may as well post a few thoughts here. Thus this is my first TV Review!
This tv series is a prequel to the 2001 movie, with the same actors returning to play teenagers even though everyone is 15 years older and looks it (especially the men). This is played for a good gag at the end of the series. Like the movie, the show is a loving spoof of 1980s movie tropes, not just camp movies but across genres. And like the movie, a lot more happens than could possibly happen in a single day. Surprisingly, I think the tv series is actually funnier than the movie, perhaps because over several episodes they’re able to build up the characters and scenarios to make the gags pay off.
It’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for some dumb fun, here it is.