TV Review:  Stranger Things (2022)


TitleStranger Things
Release Dates: 2022
Season: 4
Number of Episodes: 9
Summary/Review:

The supernatural/horror/thriller/drama Stranger Things returns after a three-year (pandemic-delayed) gap with new adventures for a growing team of residents of the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana.  After diminishing returns in seasons 2 and 3, season 4 feels like a return to form that comes close to greatness of the debut season.  With a large cast of characters, the season is longer in both the number of episodes and the length of individual episodes to tell all their stories, so it can feel sprawling and uneven at times, but I personally feel the more the merrier.

The show reflects a bigger budget and more ambitious scope than previous series lending it a more cinematic feel. It also has more intense gore and horror elements than previous seasons. New cast member Joseph Quinn stars as the season’s breakout character Eddie Munson, leader of the Hellfire Club at Hawkins High School where the nerdy outsiders bond over Dungeons and Dragons’ campaigns.  Sadie Sink returns for her third season as Max Mayfield getting a chance to really develop her character and show off her acting chops.

My review continues below with spoilers, so beware!

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TV Review: Ms. Marvel (2022)


Title: Ms. Marvel
Release Date:  June 8 – July 13, 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Bisha K. Ali
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Marvel Studios
Summary/ReviewMs. Marvel, one of my favorite comic series, comes to life in this limited series from Disney+.  Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is an ordinary teenager in New Jersey, obsessed with the Avengers (especially Captain Marvel), the child of Pakistani immigrants, and a faithful Muslim.  A magical bangle reveals that she has powers and she begins to learn how she can be a superhero while uncovering her family history back to the Partition of India and Pakistan.

Vellani is perfect as Kamala capturing the conflict and joy of teenage life.  The rest of the cast, including Zenobia Shroff and Mohan Kapur as Kamala’s parents, Matt Lintz as Kamala’s best friend Bruno, and Yasmeen Fletcher as Kamala’s good friend Nakia are also perfectly cast.  The style of the show is great with colorful, comic book animations in the credits and backgrounds of the show, and magnificent soundtrack of American pop songs mixed with Pakistani music.  Some people have criticized that Kamala’s powers are different from the comics but I like the change because 1) I don’t want to see the exact same story recreated, 2) I love how it ties in her powers to her family and cultural history, and 3) Marvels shows The Inhumans bombed so I can understand why they’d want to avoid that.

This was a delightful series and I look forward to Kamala Khan’s return in The Marvels next year.

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TV Review: Obi-Wan Kenobi (2022)


Title Obi-Wan Kenobi
Release Date: 2022
Creator/Head Writer/Showrunner:  Deborah Chow
Episodes: 6
Production Company:  Lucasfilm
Summary/Review:

The Star Wars franchise has a way of defying my expectations for good or for ill.  There are some things I eagerly anticipated seeing that ended up being rather bad (The Phantom Menace, The Rise of Skywalker).  Then there are things that I originally questioned why they needed to be made that turned out to be among the best Star Wars works ever (Rogue One, The Mandalorian).

When I heard there would be a show about Obi-Wan Kenobi set between Revenge of the Sith and Star Wars, I didn’t really think that there was any good story to be told during that time.  Then the news that Hayden Christensen was cast to return as Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader, I wondered what the point was since he’d be behind a mask and voiced by James Earl Jones.  Well, all of my questions were answered to my satisfaction and beyond in this series that really delves into some of the most compelling characters in the Star Wars universe.

For all the flaws of the prequels, it did have some talented actors with Ewan McGregor among this best.  This show allows McGregor to flourish as he portrays the Jedi master dealing with guilt and isolation as he’s separated himself from the Force while watching over they young Luke Skywalker (Grant Feely).  Christensen, who was criminally underserved by the poor scripts in the prequel, gets to show off his acting chops as well.  Newcomer Moses Ingram appears as Reva Sevander, a Force-sensitive Inquisitor working for the Empire to hunt down Jedi, also does a great job.

Of course, the best part of this series was a huge surprise and I’m going to hide it below the trailer in case you’ve read this far but don’t want to see spoilers.

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Movie Review: The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks (2022)


Title: The Kids in the Hall: Comedy Punks
Release Date: March 15, 2022
Director: Reginald Harkema
Production Company: Blue Ant Media
Summary/Review:

This two-part documentary on Amazon Prime Video is tied in with the release of a new season of The Kids in the Hall, the first in 27 years!  I’m not going to review that series but if you’re a fan of the Kids in the Hall, watch it because it’s excellent and they haven’t missed a step.  The documentary features interviews with all five Kids – Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney,  and Scott Thompson – as well as producer Lorne Michaels, writer Paul Bellini, and celebrity fans like Mike Myers and Eddie Izzard, among others.  It also is rich in archival footage and clips from various KITH all projects.

I learned that Dave & Kevin were the closest partnership in the group and had started performing together in Toronto.  Meanwhile Bruce and Mark began working together in Calgary before moving to Toronto.  The four of them formed the Kids in the Hall (which Mark wanted to call The Audience) and then Scott Thompson willed himself into the group.  I also learned that Scott had survived a mass shooting at his school in Ontario as a child which has informed his work.  KITH also made a miniseries in 2012 called Death Comes to Town which I’d never even heard of.

This is a solid and informative documentary.  But it does strike me as an extremely conventional approach for a documentary about an unconventional comedy team.  At least Paul Bellini wears a towel during some of his interviews.

 

Rating: ***

TV Review: Hawkeye (2021)


Title: Hawkeye
Release Date: 2021
Creator: Jonathan Igla
Director: Rhys Thomas (episodes 1,2, & 6), Bert & Bertie (episodes 3-5)
Season: 1
Episodes: 6
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), is the overlooked Avenger, who not only never got his own movie, but was just kind of there when the first Avengers movie began.  So this is a belated Hawkeye story that focuses on the aging superhero/dad dealing with the trauma of losing his friend Natasha Romanov as well as hearing loss.  Enter Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld), who as a child witnessed the Battle of New York in 2012 when her house in Manhattan was damaged and her father killed. Seeing Hawkeye’s heroics, Kate dedicated her life to learning archery and martial arts skill.

This series is obviously a “passing the baton” story as Barton just wants to get home to his family for Christmas but gets caught up in a crisis that center around Kate.  They have a good chemistry and the show has a good balance of humor, action, and more reflective moments.  It also has an surplus of villains including the Tracksuit Mafia, Maya Lopez (Alaqua Cox) – a deaf leader of the Tracksuits set on vengeance against Barton’s alter-ego Ronin, and Natasha’s sister Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh), who was introduced in Black Widow and once again steals scenes left and right.

I won’t go into much detail but it’s an enjoyable series and another great addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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TV Review: What If… (2021)


Title: What If…
Release Date: 2021
Creator: A.C. Bradley
Director: Bryan Andrews
Season: 1
Episodes: 9
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

The animated Disney+ series does what it says on the tin, asking “What If?” things happened differently in various Marvel Cinematic Universe stories.  It helps to have a knowledge of the existing films to understand why the changes are significant, but I think plot changes are explained well enough to still be entertaining to a novice.  The series is narrated by The Watched (Jeffrey Wright), an alien being who observes the multiverse and is sworn not to interfere.  The animation is high-quality with a painterly quality that fits both the stories’ comic book origins and motion picture predecessors.  The voice cast also includes a lot of the actors who played the roles in the movies, including Chadwick Boseman in one of the final projects he worked on before his death.

The What If? propositions tend to go for comedy or to go really dark.  In the former category, Boseman’s T’Challa becomes Star Lord instead of Peter Quill and his competence makes everything go better for everyone involved, including Thanos (Josh Brolin) who is convinced to give up trying to kill half of all sentient beings and join the Ravagers.  The dark episodes show us what happens if all the Avengers were killed before they could work together and what happens if the world was overrun by zombies (including some of the superpowered).  My favorite episodes are “What If… Captain Carter Were the First Avenger?” where Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) takes the serum instead of Steve Rogers (Josh Keaton) and fights HYDRA with a shield bearing the Union Jack.  The other classic “What If… Killmonger Rescued Tony Stark?” has Erik “Kilmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan) rising through the ranks of Stark Industries where Tony Stark (Mick Wingert) had no life-changing injury to create Iron Man.

While the show works as a series of stand alone episodes.  The penultimate episode leads into a cliffhanger with the final episode requiring The Watcher to be a more active character and bring together a team of characters from previous episodes to be The Guardians of the Multiverse.  The show also ties into some of the recent movies and shows where the Multiverse is figuring to play a big role in the overarching theme of Phase 4 of the MCU.  While not a vital series, it is a fun addition to the lore for fans of the MCU.

 

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TV Review: Loki (2021)


Title: Loki
Release Date: 2021
Creator: Michael Waldron
Director: Kate Herron
Episodes: 6
Production Company: Marvel Studios
Summary/Review:

WARNING: This review contains light spoilers, so if you’re sensitive to spoilers and not watched all 6 episodes of Loki, please don’t read

This Disney+ series picks up from a scene in Avengers: Endgame when the Norse trickster god Loki (Tom Hiddleston) uses the Tesseract to escape the Avengers, and over six episodes ends up in a completely different place that appears to be setting up the next phase of Marvel Cinematic Universe.  Loki is captured by the Time Variance Authority (TVA), a bureaucratic organization that operates out its massive mid-century modern headquarters to maintain the Sacred Timeline by “pruning” branches from the timeline.

Judge Ravonna Renslayer (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) condemns Loki to be erased from existence but Agent Mobius (Owen Wilson) convinces her to allow Loki help investigate another Loki variant who has killed several time agents.  They find the Loki variant and discover it is a woman who uses the alias Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). Loki and Sylvie end up teaming up and begin uncovering the dark truths behind the TVA. The final episode avoids the typical Marvel battle for a quieter conversation with the TVA’s creator He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors).  As someone who hasn’t read 60 years of Marvel Comics, I found it a bit frustrating to not be aware of the identity behind He Who Remains until after I read reviews of the episode, but he appears to be setting up to be the MCU’s next Thanos-level threat.

Loki is another excellent limited series that takes storytelling to new and interesting places.  The acting is on point with Hiddleston getting a chance to show his ranges as Loki and Di Martino is a great addition.  I also really enjoy the style of the TVA and the self-referential humor.

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TV Review: Star Trek: Discovery (2020)


Title: Star Trek: Discovery
Release Date: 2020
Creator: Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtzman
Season: 3
Episodes:13
Production Company: Secret Hideout | Roddenberry Entertainment | Living Dead Guy Productions | CBS Studios
Summary/Review:

Picking up from the cliffhanger end of Season 2, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the crew of the USS Discovery successfully travel 930 years into the future.  Their mission to save the universe is a success, but they find new troubles in the future.  Specifically, sources of dilithium for warp travel through space have dried up and an event called The Burn additionally destroyed many starships.  Unable to travel long distances, the Federation has dwindled in size while pirates and mercenaries operate freely in many systems.

I’ve had mixed feelings about Star Trek:Discovery and continue to do so.  Season 3 is definitely the best of the three seasons thus far, and I continue to like the cast and the characters they play.  Sending Discovery to the future helps in that the show can finally shake off being overshadowed by the original series and can feature more futuristic technology without it looking anachronistic.

Some other highlights of Season 3:

  • introduction of Book (David Ajala), a courier or smuggler from the 32nd century who becomes a love interest for Michael Burnham
  • introduction of Adira Tal (Blu del Barrio), a teenage human who is bonded with a Trill symbiont. They have a Wesley Crusher teen genius flair to them (NOTE: I know in some quarters of Star Trek fandom, Wesley is hated, but I’ve always liked the character so this is a compliment)
  • there feels to be a lot more exploring of “strange new worlds” in this series although it is tied to the season-long arc.  Seeing this far into the future of the Star Trek universe is fascinating in of itself
  • a completely bonkers call back to the Guardian of Forever
  • fleshing out of the bridge crew characters that we learned little about in the first two seasons, especially Keyla Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Joan Owesekun (Oyin Oladejo)
  • Grudge the cat
  • the final three episodes are a highwater mark for story, action, and direction.  These episodes are the first the really feel like they are made in the same spirit as the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation. We even get to see Doug Jones in a rare performance as Saru without prosthetics

There are also a few downsides:

  • the continued presence of the evil Mirror Universe Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) is a drag.  Yeoh is a great actor but she’s saddled with two much air time that could be dedicated to more interesting things. Georgiou does finally depart the show (for a planned spinoff series), but not before we have to sit through a two-parter that brings us back to the Mirror Universe for gratuitous nastiness. The other characters fawning over her at her memorial service seems more like a tribute to Yeoh than to Georgiou who everyone rightly would’ve hated
  • while the show has gradually shed being grimdark for grimdark’s sake over the course of three season, it’s still baked into the show with crazy plot twists often substituted for good storytelling.  And there’s too much gratuitous violence, even in the good episodes where Burnham chokes a person to death with her legs.
  • while I generally like Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as Michael Burnham, I feel that the writers are overdoing it by having her be central to every story in every episode.  Even Kirk and Picard were left out of smattering of episodes in the old shows. As the series ends, Saru is apparently leaving the show and Burnham takes over as captain. The loss of one of the best characters and the further centering of Burnham makes me a bit uneasy about the future of the show.

But as I said earlier, this is the best season of Discovery so far and with it finishing so strongly, I do have high hopes that the show will continue to improve and earn a place in Star Trek lore.  My subscription to Paramount+ runs out before season 4 premieres and I don’t know if and when I will re-subscribe, but I expect somewhere down the road I will watch future seasons of the show.  In the meantime, I’m inspired to go back and rewatch Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation and finally work my way through Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise.  This will take some time, for sure.

 

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TV Review: Star Trek: Lower Decks (2020)


TitleStar Trek: Lower Decks
Release Date: 2020
Creator: Mike McMahan
Season: 1
Episodes:10
Production Company: CBS Eye Animation Productions | Secret Hideout | Important Science | Roddenberry Entertainment | Titmouse, Inc.
Summary/Review:

Starfleet:  they’re just like us!  The animated comedy series Star Trek: Lower Decks shows the perspective of low-ranking crew members aboard the starship U.S.S. Cerritos. The four main characters included Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome) a wise-cracking rule-breaker who is the captain’s daughter, although neither of them publicly acknowledge their relationship. Mariner befriends the nerdy but ambitious Brad Boimler (Jack Quaid) who is a stickler for the rules.  The cast is rounded out with D’Vana Tendi (Noël Wells), an Orion medical ensign who is very enthusiastic about everything Starfleet, and  Sam Rutherford (Eugene Cordero), an engineering ensign adjusting to a new cyborg implant.

This show isn’t breaking any ground as joking about the tropes and conventions of Star Trek go back a long way. The adult animation style and humor are also nothing new as it’s pretty similar to your run-of-the-mill animated shows on The Cartoon Network/Adult Swim.  And yet, I found the show had a goofy charm I enjoyed.  Maybe Discovery and Picard set me up to have low expectations for the Paramount+ Star Trek Universe.  I definitely felt this show improved vastly as the season went along and I would be happy to watch more when season 2 is released.

 

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