9-1-1: Lone Star – Does it live up to the promise of the original?

 

I really want to like 9-1-1: Lone Star, the new FOX spin-off of 9-1-1, but it’s making it really hard. 

In 3 episodes the following has all happened:

  • Captain Owen Strand (Rob Lowe) grappling with newly diagnosed lung cancer, possibly losing his hair and the attendant existential crisis therein, taking over the 126 after rebuilding his house in NYC after 9/11, line dancing, worrying about his son TK’s (Ronen Rubenstein) sobriety, giving a very long PSA about skincare, and shoving himself into another story by assaulting a man and vomiting on him
  • TK getting dumped while trying to propose, ODing, and starting a hookup relationship with the only cop in Austin Carlos (Rafael Silva), starting a bar brawl in an attempt to “feel something” using Carlos to get out of trouble, nearly killing himself and Marjan (Natacha Karam) while disobeying orders.
  • Medic Captain Michelle Blake (Liv Tyler) investigating her sister’s disappearance by stalking her ex and getting arrested for it (again, by Carlos), giving off the record medical care to an undocumented child, seeing a psychic regarding her sister, and line dancing
  • Judd Ryder (Jim Parrack) watching the whole of the original 126 die in an explosion in the cold open, yelling a lot, suffering through PTSD and beginning therapy for it after wife Grace (Sierra Aylina McClain) tells him to
  • Marjan, whose backstory is that she went viral with a flashy rescue in Miami, going viral again after her hijab was pulled off in the aforementioned near-death experience causing her new mosque to ask her to leave for not being “modest enough”

There’s also the trans character (Brian Michael Smith) and the new guy (Julian Works) who haven’t yet done much and I assume Michelle’s crew (Brianna Baker and Mark Elias) will get folded into something at some point.

3. Episodes!

The original took a bit until they tried to get the audience to care about the lives of these characters versus the lives they were saving and instead focused on the increasingly insane cases they worked. Remember, the original premise of the show was to shed light on all first responders, particularly dispatchers (on the original the dispatcher character was how they introduced the outside lives story to begin with), and what they do to save people. The real lives stuff was part of the show evolving into a soap as all hour-long dramas tend to do. Here though I can tell you about maybe 3 cases across 3 episodes because nothing memorable has happened. And it is sucking the fun out of the show.

Look, part of what kept people tuning into 9-1-1 was how crazy it was. It was fun and weird and insane and through that, the audience started to care about not only the cases but also the characters. This is why the season 3 tidal wave premiere was so effective, they earned imperiling their characters and knowing the audience would not only care but sustain that care over 3 weeks. Lone Star, on the other hand, has beat us over the head with who and what these characters are about and next week will be throwing them into a tornado. In episode 4. On a show that hasn’t even earned the right to use the real Austin Fire nor Austin PD patches.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

“It’s not really about Mr. Rogers though…”– Andrea Vogel (Susan Kelechi Watson)

il_fullxfull.2101749957_ge3mThere’s a point, about 20 minutes into A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood during a fight at a wedding, when you realize you’ve been had. The movie, advertised to be about a reporter (Matthew Rhys) profiling iconic children’s television star Fred Rogers (Tom Hanks), is both not about what you thought nor is it, in hindsight, about what it was even about.

The movie is based broadly on a 1998 Esquire magazine piece about Rogers written by Tom Junod. The piece is not so much about Rogers as it is about his impact- both direct and indirect- on the world around him. It’s a lovely, if somewhat rambling, profile written by a man who at the time was deeply reviled for scathing pieces he’d written about others (especially Kevin Spacey, which – hindsight, right?) The profile explores Rogers’ impact on Junod and everyone he met and led to Junod and Rogers remaining friends until the latter’s death in 2003.

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood is a fictionalized version of the events leading to the profile with Rhys playing an invented character named Lloyd Vogel. Vogel’s story – again fully fictionalized- is the crux of the film as we see how his profiling of Rogers helps this (by his own admission) broken man and his strained relationship with his father (Chris Cooper). Vogel is for all intents and purposes Junod- a magazine writer with a negative reputation who gets assigned a piece on Rogers for a feature on American Heroes for Esquire magazine. Vogel even tells the story of his favorite toy as a child, Old Rabbit, cribbed from the story that opens the Junod piece.

As Vogel gets to know Rogers (over the course of a few days, weeks, months; the timeline is unclear) he becomes further obsessed with either proving that Rogers is something other than the man he portrays himself to be or prove that despite Rogers’ whole attitude towards life, some people are beyond redemption.

The film really is a love letter to Rogers who, while somewhat less than a secondary character in the film, gets all the best moments and really drives the emotional core of the story. While Vogel descends further and further down the rabbit hole of his own personal despair, his relationship with Rogers grounds him in a reality that he hadn’t previously known. Hanks plays Rogers perfectly and really seems to relish the many scenes of near-total silence while Rogers or those around him contemplate their existence.

The filmmakers did a wonderful job keeping the audience in Rogers’ world from scene transitions done in miniature, like the opening of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, to most scenes containing little to know incidental music which really focusses the audience on the story at hand.

But the story isn’t what it purports to be as Rogers and his entire world view is only barely touched on in favor of the bulk of the screentime showing Vogel’s family drama. Either story could have been a fine film on its own. In fact, 2018’s Mister Rogers documentary Won’t you be my neighbor? Proves that Rogers is more than interesting enough to fill a runtime. And if you want to tell a story about a broken man who finds salvation in repairing his family, tell that story. But, to tell a family drama story with various Mister Rogers cameos not only undercuts the (let’s face it) already well-trod daddy-issues movie but also relegates the vastly more interesting (and beautifully performed) Rogers/Hanks to what feels like, if not an afterthought, than a forced framing device. And, why claim to base the film on Junod’s article at all when you’re going to fictionalize the story and keep the central point that Rogers emanated grace? Especially when the “climax” of the movie as it were is Vogel’s article (his wife’s feelings on which alluded to in the quote above – symbolizing the whole film) becoming the cover story for Esquire leading to the filmmakers recreating the Mister Rogers cover of the magazine that featured Junod’s profile on which the movie is kind-of-but-really-not-at-all based on. It’s mind-boggling.

If you wanted make a movie about the theme of Junod’s piece, which this largely is, why they make the main character a stand-in for Junod who does the exact same things as Junod (up to and including writing the piece which forms the inspiration for this movie) instead of just telling Junod’s ACTUAL story? This movie is an ouroboros of bizarre choices.

Nothing about A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood makes sense. Either tell Junod’s story, or don’t. Tell a Mister Rogers story, or don’t. Tell a family drama story, or don’t. But to hybridize and fictionalize these stories doesn’t give any of them enough credit. Quite why they chose to go this way is bewildering to me and it makes watching the movie excruciating as you’re never quite sure what you’re watching or why. Hanks who despite my feelings on some of his past performances really does some fantastic work here, would have been wonderful in a full film about this character. Rhys, on the other hand, plays Vogel as if he was in sort of a loving Fight Club where a toxic man begins healing through quiet grace instead of fighting. And, while the movie has several heartwarming moments, it never quite allows itself to really feel the message it’s trying to portray. C+

Goodbye Sunnyside: 2019’s first cut

 

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Oh yeah, Garrett has a sister (Kiran Deol). She’s not nearly as important as her placement in the cast photo suggests. 

It could have been ok. It had some nice buzz. The cast was likable enough. Sadly it was not to be as NBC’s immigration comedy Sunnyside has become the first cancellation of the new fall season.

 

The Kal Penn led sitcom about a disgraced city councilman helping a group of immigrants navigate the citizenship process was at best a hard sell. In this current political climate immigration is a touchy subject, add to that one character being detained by ICE at the end of the pilot and this light comedy fell quickly into “too real” territory. More than that though, Sunnyside committed the cardinal sin of sitcoms- it wasn’t funny

A sitcom by definition needs 2 things: a situation, and comedy. The situation was there, loosely: Penn’s Garrett Modi was just kicked off of the Queens city council for basically partying like the rock star he isn’t. He manages to con a group of immigrants into paying him to teach them America- which he knows nothing about. His students are a melange of tropes and ideas that never formed into characters; the Ethiopian man who was a cardiac surgeon at home but now drives a cab (Samba Schutte), the Latina who works all the jobs and is the group’s mom figure (Diana Maria Riva), the DACA kid (Moses Storm), and the cartoonishly wealthy brother and sister whose father may or may not be an international supervillain (Joel Kim Booster and Poppy Liu).

The writers though seemed to both underestimate how funny it would be to watch a man established as unlikable dupe a bunch of otherwise nice people who are just trying to make it under tough circumstances. And, once his ruse is revealed, how funny it is to watch an idiot teach people stuff he knows nothing about. Honestly, in the 3 episodes aired, there were several scenes of Garrett teaching something that is then contradicted by someone else who was clearly right. Haha. Only no.

People attempting to get citizenship is a tough story to tell. The ins and outs are largely administrative and the lengthy difficult process isn’t exactly ripe with comic possibility. Add to that immigration being a hot button issue, one of your characters being a DACA recipient and again that end of pilot ICE pick up and you have a maelstrom of why was this made? There are comedic beats sure, and those could have been handled in about a dozen different ways than this was. For example, One Day at a Time did this story inside a family sitcom and it was handled with both humor and heart. Here though, Garrett seems to think the whole thing a joke while the rest of the ensemble would have gone about their business in almost exactly the same way without his interference so what even is your MAIN CHARACTER’S purpose?

The sole saving grace and the only thing I will miss about this show are Booster and Liu as twin rich weirdoes Jun Ho and Mei Lin. From their fashion to their complete inability to understand how anything works due to their ridiculous wealth, these two were a total delight. Booster, who I know from his standup expertly played the trillionaire airhead and Liu’s delivery of every line as both a question and somehow a critique of the less wealthy was beautiful.

If you want to view this not good, but luckily not mean-spirited show you still can as it will air its full run on Hulu and NBC.com. I doubt anyone will watch though and Sunnyside will go down in TV history as the first cancellation of the season, a weird concept for a comedy, and a super unfunny way to keep Will & Grace‘s timeslot warm for a few weeks.

Charmed: The rebooting of a reboot

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Punny tagline notwithstanding, this is a pretty solid poster. Melonie Diaz could have used a few more takes to get an emotion besides “sneering bitterness” but solid still.

Last year, The CW made waves in various fandoms when they announced a reboot of “beloved” WB witch sisters series Charmed. I put a lot of quotation marks in there because while the original stars were livid and a segment of fans were upset, no one else really seemed to care one way or the other as the love for the original usually segues quickly towards remembering how insane it was and behind-the-scenes toxic it (allegedly) was. But air it did, nodding back to the original while forging its own story the new Charmed was an inoffensive, fun show that at worst tried to do too much in its first season and got pretty swamped by the crushing and super outdated network 22-episode order.

With season 2, all looked on pace to continue with what they had done, setting the sisters up as a sort of admin office for magical creatures. But then, something happened before the first commercial, and the show was radically transformed.

See, in season 1 the show’s entire continuity which had been set up at the beginning of the series was slowly but surely destroyed through various plot machinations leaving the titular Charmed Ones as the sole remaining magical authority. Now, however, they find themselves largely powerless and preparing to embark on a whole new life as The Librarians of Warehouse 13.

The sisters, Mel (Melonie Diaz), Macy (Madeleine Mantock), and Maggie (Sarah Jeffrey), and later their Whitelighter Harry (think witch guide/protector played by Rupert Evans) were swept away from the show’s Michigan location to Seattle and their very own command center.

Their new digs seems equipped with a Cerebro-like board for witches and the ability to create portals to witches in danger. And…that’s it. The sisters have now tasked themselves with saving witch-kind. Oh, and their house followed them, being “bound to” the sisters somehow. By the end of the second episode of the season it’s established that this new status quo is not only permanent but basically nothing from season 1 has survived into season 2.  And now, over the course of 24 episodes, we have our 3rd concept for the series.

When rebooting a show, you have to have a compelling reason. Either the fans are clamoring for the continuing stories of these characters, or you really like the concept and want to go a different way than the original. But, you have to have a strong idea otherwise why bother? In this case it seems as if they had what they thought was going to a strong and sustainable concept that died out mid-season 1 as they seriously overshot their ideas, retooled for a fresh season 2, and then… honestly I don’t know. The magical authority figures idea was given maybe 8 minutes of screentime so there’s no telling how that would have gone were it given a chance.

Even stranger that they have taken the tact of conceptually cribbing other shows: The Librarians a show about people fighting magical beings and concepts operating out of a magical room with magical teleporters; and Warehouse 13 a show about people operating out of a magical building collecting magical objects. The only Charmed addition being that the magical room they work out of is inside a Seattle based work collective, Safe Space (which, ha?), and of course the focus on witches.

Where this “new” concept for the show goes remains to be seen, only 2 episodes have aired, but so far it been hit or miss. While an interesting mystery has been set up (why this all happened, the assassin that started this all/seems to want to bang Macy, the apparent war with the demons again some more) the larger questions don’t seem likely to be answered as the bulk of the exposition has already been handwaved away in throwaway dialogue. But, if you’re only going to barely address the entirely new concept of your show, the audience quite frankly has too much going on in their televisual lives to give anything too long to figure itself out. Add to that this is the 3rd time and only the most die-hard of your already small CW audience is going to wait it out.

So-called “peak TV” has led to a lot of great strides in television, but I’m still not entirely sure that the current reboot/reimagining landscape is justified. Ther are far more 2018 Roseannes (now The Conners)  than 2017 One Day at a Times to really account for a cultural shift towards dragging more nostalgia into the light. While the new (new, new) Charmed is still likable enough, but the higher (and less “original”) the concept goes, the farther it has to fall.

Tall Girl

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Sabrina Carpenter is barely in this, why is she in font of the poster? And Griffin Gluck looks like such an asshole here. Oh, and that tag line? Is 100% not this movie until the last 5 minutes. Shut up poster

Tall Girl is bad. That’s the review.

Oh. I should write more? Well then…

Tall Girl is Netflix’s latest romantic comedy for teens. It’s neither romantic nor particularly comedic but it is completely insane so there’s that.

The movie centers on Jodie (Ava Michelle*) a 16 year old girl who is 6’1″ tall. To hear her tell it (in voice over. A lot) her height is the worst thing that has happened to anyone ever. There are simply no problems worse than her (apparently?) freakish height. And, the rest of the world of the movie seems to back this assertion as they either relentlessly mock her (in the most elementary and uninspired ways), or in the case of her father (Steve Zahn) attempt to MEDICALLY STUNT HER GROWTH. It should also be mentioned that this movie takes place at a high school in New Orleans (that is somehow also uncomfortably white) but Jodie’s height is the worst possible fate that could befall another human. Poor Jodie

(*It should be mentioned that Ava Michelle was kicked off Dance Moms when she was younger for her height. And yeah that sucks. But, this movie has zero perspective and, even being told through the eyes of an teenager, the way this movie portrays the troubles of the tall is bananas)

Jodie’s greatest wish, besides “being normal” as she says, is to date a boy that is taller than her and not her weirdly stalkery friend Jack (Griffin Gluck). Enter Swedish foreign excahnge student (and additional very white person) Stig (Luke Eisner) who both has the height and the looks.

The rest of the movie is basically paint-by-trope following Jodie’s journey with Stig but really it’s about her journey to herself. Really. It actually ends with Jodie giving an “inspiring” speech at the homecoming dance about self-acceptance while wearing a truly hideous blue satin pantsuit with an Elizabethan ruff collar. There’s also a thing with Jack carrying all of his books in a milk crate that is almost too stupid to mention.

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It doesn’t read in this image but that monstrosity is shiny blue satin. She picks it out in the requisite makeover scene because it’s “so her” and even her mom (Angela Kinsey) is all “OoooOOoOookkkk crazy”

Nothing about this movie is good; bad acting, bad story; bad “plot” twists”. Michelle and Eisner have negative chemistry and their scenes together are more wooden than the piano that brings them together. Gluck’s Jack is somewhere between nice guy stalker and proto-incel as he spends nearly all of his screentime trying to convince her that what she wants in a romantic partner is all wrong and she should just be with him already no matter how many time she says no. Because being tall is so much worse than having zero agency in your own life. Gluck also gets a subplot of sorts beginning a relationship with Liz (Paris Berelc) whom he seems to have not only genuine chemistry with but seems to really like. Until he doesn’t and it’s all about Jodie again. #Justice4Liz

If this movie were your standard teen romcom and hit every single beat Tall Girl hits in the same way but gave Jodie any other issue it would still be bad. That the crux of the film’s conflict is not only pretty inconsequential but also dealt with in such a cartoonishly over the top manner makes it almost unwatchably bad. I would like to give it credit for trying to do something new but even that bar is somehow too high to clear. D-

 

 

 

Maiden Voyage: Batwoman

During last year’s Arrowverse crossover event, we were introduced to the world of  (the CW’s) Gotham and Ruby Rose’s Kate Kane/Batwoman. At the time, I was pretty excited about the idea and the portrayal as I’m a fan of both the actress and the character from the comics. Now that the series has premiered, and is set prior to last year’s episode for origin purposes, I’m somewhat less thrilled but optimistic about the possibilities.

Pilot

Proto Batwoman can get it, to be honest. 

The Batwoman series has to do a lot for a lot of people. While comic fans have known versions of the character for decades- this specific take going back to the early 2000s at least – TV fans have to be (re)introduced to not only this version of the iconically gritty city but also meet a character that is at once all of the things they expect from Bat-adjacent characters and also something wholly different.

Kate Kane being one of the few queer superheroes is a big deal and for that to be not only front and center on the show but that she’s also being played by a queer actor is also pretty monumental. Not that anyone should be shocked that they’re taking this approach in the famously pro-LGBTQIA Arrowversebut I was so pleased that Kate’s motivation for returning to Gotham in the pilot was that her ex-girlfriend was in trouble. It’s perfect for this character and Rose and Meagan Tandy (Sophie) have incredible chemistry. Their relationship, as shown in flashback so far, was a true bright spot of the pilot.

Rose herself is…fine. I have long railed against actors being forced to hide their natural accents unless essential for the character. There is no reason, for me, that Kate couldn’t have picked up an Australian accent in her travels to allow Rose to use her natural voice. But, that was not to be and her struggle to emote while managing a flat American accent was at best hard to listen to. Especially as compared to the skill Dougray Scott (Jacob) has in hiding his very Scottish natural accent. Maybe he can teach classes between takes? In fairness, Rose spends a lot of the pilot staring into the middle distance or fighting so we have yet to see a lot of who and what Kate Kane is yet.

While the episode was largely boring; very pilot-y and awkward in parts (that scene in Mary’s (Nicole Kang) “clinic” was so expository and static it might as well have been a text crawl) the major saving grace to me was the villain, Rachel Skarsten’s Alice. This performance, just in the pilot, was easily the most energetic in the whole cast. Alice is a Wonderland obsessed psycho who seems to be Batwoman’s Joker figure as well as [spoiler redacted] which gives a whole new hero/villain dynamic that should be fun to explore. Honestly, the whole episode, and my feelings on the show, were buoyed by Skarsten.

(Fun note: Skarsten played Dinah Lance/Black Canary on the short-lived early 2000s Birds of Prey series on The WB. Not only is this a fun return to the DCEU for her I really hope that somehow there is a chance for her to interact with Ashley Scott (ex-Helena Kyle/Huntress Birds of Prey) when she comes back for her Crisis on Infinite Earths cameo. Yes, I was the 1 person who watched Birds of Prey, why do you ask?)

I think it’s pretty obvious to everyone if this show will be for them, being as entrenched in established continuity and whatnot it’s not likely to be pulling in a lot of new eyes. I’m hopeful that the series can live up to the promise of last year’s not-quite-a-backdoor-pilot (in which it must be said Rose was markedly better) and the Alice character alone give me hope there. But, Rose’s dour voice over (which is flat and emotionless and still has wild accent creep) and Rachel Maddow’s (!!) Gossip Girl-lite voice of Gotham “character” Vesper Fairchild (who in the comics in Bruce Wayne’s ex. So there’s a lot happening there) are leaving me worried that this might not have wings beyond smaller cameos in other shows. B-

Fall 2019: It’s upon us!

New TV: Now Pumpkin Spice Flavored!

I try to do a write up of new fall TV every year (Fall TV: The *real* most wonderful time of the year) and this year got a little…hectic. Suffice it to say this one is coming down to the wire. But, here we go! Yay, new TV!

*Note: This will be for broadcast networks only. Streaming releases just so many things (including new services spawning like mad) that I’m getting a little lost myself. *

ABC

Returning Primetime shows: 19, including 20/20, and the seemingly renewed in perpetuity America’s Funniest Videos and Dancing with the Stars

New Shows: MIXED-ISH (Tuesdays 9/8c 9/24): 2nd spinoff of black-ish (along with Freeform’s grown-ish) which follows the childhood of Tracee Ellis Ross’ Rainbow growing up mixed race in the 70/80s. Besides the recast of the father character (Anders Holm is now Mark-Paul Gosselaar) I have heard nothing of note here

Emergence (Tuesdays 10/9c 9/24) Mystery box show about a plane crash and a little girl with strange powers. Fargo‘s Allison Tolman stars. Lost + Manifest= 13 episodes and we’re out

Stumptown (Wednesdays 10/9c 9/25) Based on a graphic novel, Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) stars as a PI in what appears to be a “What if Stephanie Plum were competent” show. The only ABC new show I plan to even give a chance.

CBS

Returning Primetime Shows: 19, including a new season of Survivor (now subtitled Island of the Idols) and something called Crimetime Saturday

New Shows: Bob Hearts Abishola (Mondays 8:30/7:30c 9/23) Mike and Molly‘s Billy Gardell stars as a man who falls for his cardiac nurse. From the web description the show is a “comedic examination of immigrant life in America.” which sounds excruciating but it’s from Chuck Lorre , Eddie Gorodetsky (The Big Bang Theory) and British comedian/ occasional The Daily Show contributor Gina Yashere so there’s potential.

All Rise (Mondays 9/8c 9/23) Legal show with a new judge (Luke Cage‘s Simone Missick) as the lead. The show is as uninspired as anything else this paragraph could be.

The Unicorn (Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c 9/26). Stop me if you’ve heard this one: Widower (here, Justified‘s Walton Goggins) tries to get back in the dating world with the help of his friends and young kids. But, because he’s good looking, employed and looking for commitment he’s a “hot commodity.” Again, bored. But, it has been getting some positive buzz so it has that going for it.

Carol’s Second Act (Thursdays 9:30/8:30c 9/26) My nemesis Patricia Heaton (Everybody Loves Raymond– a show I loathe) has decided to become a doctor as a 50 year old. It’s funny because she’s old?

Evil (Thursdays 10/9c 9/26) Non-Wife based drama from Michelle and Robert King is a three man band version of The X-Files in which a team of people try to solve supernatural things. Again, no thanks

Fox

Returning Primetime Shows: 8 including 2 nights of The Masked Singer

New Shows: Prodigal Son (Mondays 9/8c 9/23) The Blacklist + Hanibal starring Michael Sheen.

Bless The Harts (Sundays 8:30/7:30c 9/29) New King of the Hill

Almost Family (Wednesdays 9/8c 10/2) A new genre of Ancestry.com is trying to destory us all- when people take a DNA test they find out they all have the same dad! And decide to become friends/roomies!

WWE Smackdown Live (Fridays 8/7c 10/4) Exactly what it says on the tin

NBC

Returning Primetime shows: 11 including the continuing saga of everything in Chicago as well as the final season of The Good Place

New Shows: Bluff City Law (Mondays 10/9c 9/23) A family law show. Think Blue Bloods but lawyers.

Perfect Harmony (Thursdays 8:30/7:30c 9/26) In my head I have been calling this Sister Act the series. Bradley Whitford plays a music professor who finds a local choir that needs his help and I expect they help him too? It look cute and I’m sold

Sunnyside (Thursdays 9:30/8:30c 9/26) The most consistently positively reviewed show of the season, Sunnyside is very of this time. Kal Penn stars as a disgraced NY councilman who tries to gain his cred back by helping a group of immigrants become citizens. I really want this show to do well and it looks really cute.

The CW

Returning Primetime Shows: 10 including all 4 Arrowverse shows (part of which is the final season of Arrow) and the final season (yes really) of Supernatural.

New Shows: Batwoman (Sundays 8/7c 10/6) Ruby Rose reprises her role from last year’s Arrowverse crossover as Kate Kane/Batwoman. Do you need more than that?

Nancy Drew (Wednesdays 9/8c 10/9) A Nancy Drew redux in the vein of Riverdale with all the dark, moody, not bound to a specific time period, details that implies. Again, I’m in

Toy Story 4

Toy Story 4 exists as two movies – and ending and a beginning. Ignoring whether this film needed to be made after the arguable perfection of Toy Story 3 (hint: no), this fourth film seems to exist to try to extend the saga of the characters we love while also trying to start something wholly new

And it kind of works?

So little time is spent with the bulk of the returning cast that I can’t honestly say that this movie really serves to continue their story. What we get of them is delightful- this movie is overall funnier then the previous 3 which walked much closer to the funny/emotional line than the more straightforward humor here.

But, the bulk of the movie follows the story of Bo Peep (Annie Potts) and her band of lost toys. Not seen since Toy Story 2, Bo has been reimagined as an almost ninja-like character that acts as a leader figure for the world of lost toys. Like Fagin without the evil. Her group joins the story to help Woody (Tom Hanks) protect Forky (Tony Hale) a new toy Bonnie (Madeleine McGraw) makes from some trash. Really. The rest of the new characters in Bo’s “team” are really fun with Bunny & Ducky (Jordan Peele & Keegan-Michael Key) and Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) stealing nearly all of their scenes.

The theme of the movie – what is the purpose of a toy both to the people and the toys- is where the requisite Pixar gut-punch comes in. Christina Hendricks’ Gabby Gabby is the crux of this story and I was, unsurprisingly, left in tears at the resolution with Pixar once again delivering a beautiful tale in a surprising way.

Where it doesn’t work so well is Pixar’s (possible?) attempt to spin the story into a new direction. Without spoiling anything I will say that any possible 5th film will look very different – besides being more unnecessary than this one was.

Toy Story 4 is a perfectly fine movie with a lot to like. But, narratively it feels forced. It doesn’t cheapen the emotional roller coaster of the 3rd film – it’s still nice to see these characters- but this movie didn’t need to be made as anything other than one of the many TV specials they’ve been doing lately. Is it a fun watch? Sure. Is it really great to see these characters in a new space? Yeah. But, if you really thought the series ended after the last film, I wouldn’t blame you and it’s probably fine. B-

Aladdin

I did not want to like this movie

After seeing the initial images of Will Smith’s Genie I was deeply worried about what this would turn out to be. But, I was pleasantly surprised with how charming, (mostly) faithful and fun this new version of Aladdin was.

I mean…

There’s no point rehashing the story as nostalgia is the only reason this version even exists. If you have seen the original 1992 animated film (or the truly delightful Disney’s California Adventure live stage version) you know the deal. But, this iteration does change a few things

Mostly the story alterations and expansions make sense- this is slightly more adult than the original so we see a little more of Aladdin (Mena Massoud) and Jasmine (Naomi Scott) develop a relationship for example. There is also a subplot surrounding new character Dalia (played by the hilarious and fully charming Nasim Pedrad ) which adds a lot to the film and expands Jasmine’s world.

However it’s the music that really needs to be discussed. Massoud and Scott are both adequate singers- with Scott really shining in Jasmine’s new songs (co written by Broadway and La La Land‘s Benj Pasek and Justin Paul with original Aladdin songwriter Alan Menken) and we all know that Will Smith is… fine. But there are several classic songs with very subtle lyric changes- changes that seem illogical AT BEST- which kept tripping me up. For example in the song “Prince Ali” the original lyric is “brush up your Sunday salaam” here it’s changed to Friday. All of the changes are really that minor to the point of not mattering so why do it at all? The exception being a few changes to “Friend like me” which are adjusted due to minor alterations to the story.

  • Also of note: The costumes in this film are GLORIOUS. Oh my god they are exquisite. Costume designer Michael Wilkinson is a genius.
  • Jafar (Marwan Kenzari) is the weakest actor in the film with 2 modes: seething and shouting. Never once though did I feel any menace coming from the villain
  • Alan Tudyk’s Iago voice is basically just “cartoon parrot” which sort of kills some of the effectiveness of that character as a sub villain.

I’m still not sold on Disney’s re-imagining already perfect animated movies into live action (that said, weirdly excited for Lion King later this summer) and Will Smith will just make you miss Robin Williams that much more. But, this is a visually wonderful pretty all right movie that is more than worth a watch. B+

Like, Love, Looking Forward to

I was asked on Facebook last night after my last Babylon 5 post went live why I am still doing this if it sucks (paraphrased). I guess from the outside it looks like I’m pretty miserable with these posts, but I assure you I am not. I love TV and I love dissecting TV. And while this show is currently not thrilling me, the posts have become kind of their own reward in a weird way. Make no mistake, if the show gets to the point where watching it is an out and out chore, I have no issues chalking it up to “Not for Erics” and moving on, but we’re not there yet.

But that got me thinking – I rarely talk about the things I am absolutely in love with. With that in mind I have come up with a few shows that I like(d), love(d), or am looking forward to in the coming months. A full post of positivity!

Like

These first 2 shows are only in the “like” category because I haven’t finished them yet. Great News (season 1 on Netflix, with season 2 hopefully coming soon) and Trial & Error (season 2 on Hulu with no word on where season 1 is). Both were short lived NBC sitcoms and both were completely hilarious.

— Great News  stars Briga Heelan as Katie, a TV news producer. Her mother, played brilliantly by Andrea Mitchell becomes an intern on her show and it’s off to the races. The show is smart, fast, weird, and drove me to bouts of scream-laughing a number of times.

— Trial & Error in it’s first season was a weird show about a big city lawyer representing a small town murder suspect. I gather that season 1 was fine but when the show came back for season 2, it really when all out on the crazy. Kristin Chenoweth joins the cast as the latest totally insane murder suspect and the show doubles down on the surreal. From the completely bonkers laws of the towns of East and West Peck to the people, to the crime itself this show is totally nuts. Not seeing season 1 isn’t an impediment to season 2 either, it’s more or less standalone and the few references to the previous case can be easily overlooked.

— Netfilx’s American Vandal is a dark, moody, deadly serious (faux) docudrama about the silliest crimes at 2 high schools. In its brilliant first season, they tackled the crime of teacher’s cars being vandalized with spray painted penises and in the far darker and way funnier second season they try to track down the Turd Burgler and stop a wave of poop crimes at a Catholic High School. This show is so fun and silly and odd and it’s all handled in the most overwrought solemn tone which makes it all the funnier when actors deliver lines like “I didn’t draw the dicks!” and constantly talk about “poop crimes.” Yes, it’s sophomoric. It’s also delightful.

— Let me be the millionth person to tell you that Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which just won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy series, is just so fun and well done. I cannot recommend that enough.

— FOX’s The Gifted is like a dark Easter egg for X-Men fans. It gets a little mired down its own world building but it looks like this season is already starting a course correction. I am excited to see where it goes.

Love

— I have already mentioned my adoration for Netflix’s BoJack Horseman before so I will just say that season 5 continues it’s previous trajectory and shows that even with a modicum of success BoJack is still a wreck.

— NBC’s The Good Place (now in it’s 3rd season) is pure joy. It’s hysterically funny, brilliantly conceived and perfectly realized. I could not adore this show more.

— CBS’ Mom, like BoJack Horseman, is a true laugh at your pain show. The season 6 premiere continues the story of Christy (Anna Farris) dealing with her gambling addiction while starting Law School in typical fashion (ie it all goes to hell). But, what I love about this show is how much it has grown and changed over the years and how the characters really show their love for each other. Dark and hilarious and loving- checks all of the boxes.

Looking Forward To

— NBC’s Superstore is back tonight and I could not be more thrilled. I binged the first 3 seasons over the summer and I can’t believe that I waited on this show. Funny, insightful and wonderfully performed, this is what a sitcom should be. Season 4 picks up in the aftermath of Amy (American Ferrera) and Jonah’s (Ben Feldman) televised tryst and I genuinely cannot wait to watch this show again.

— DC’s Legends of Tomorrow returns to the CW on October 22. This show, out of all of the Arrowverse shows, has become my favorite because it is unapologetically insane. Season 3 ended with the Legends Captain Planeting themselves into a super furby and literally cuddling a demon to death. Seriously. That happened. And it was glorious. This season the team will be dealing with the magical fallout from that battle while travelling through time and generally being very weird.

— I have decided to go ahead and pick up Doctor Who again when it returns on October 7th. It’s not just new Doctor Jodie Whittaker, although there’s that, but the whole show seems to have an entirely new feel this time around. I became pretty bored with the show near the end of Matt Smith’s era and watched nearly none of Capaldi’s so I’m very interested to see how I feel about this new direction.

— Finally, the upcoming fourth and final season of The CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend fills me with feelings. I am so sad that this show is ending but I am so happy it has been allowed to do what it has. A wacky weekly musical comedy about love and mental illness is a hard sell but I love that it has connected with so many people. It returns on October 12th.

And that’s not even all I am watching as I am working on HBO’s Barry, Syfy’s Wynonna Earp, Pop’s Schitt’s Creek, BBC America’s Killing Eve, CBS’s Survivor, and a couple of UK shows (Marley’s Ghosts and panel show Mock the Week).

I really love Peak TV and I only watch a small handful of the wonderful stuff that’s out there. Hope you find something in this list that strikes your fancy!