Mini reviews of Television seasons old and new. No fuss. No spoilers. Occasional bunnies.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Skins Season 2 (2008)

"What if... I'm not ready for this?"
"You kind of need to be."
Season 2 continues with the same cast of characters, now somewhat fragmented in the aftermath of the events of season 1. Their friends and relationships shift and change as they deal with a new host of problems such as long distance relationships, remarriage of parents and others all while their last year together comes to a close and the beginning of their adult lives looms ever closer. This very much improved the series as the problems had more emotional weight than the first season while still retaining some of the wacky hijinks and humor. Gripes of the first season are also fixed as Tony is no longer spending the entire show being a douche-bag since having a big serving of humble pie and Jal is given far more to do than her non-entity status of the first season.

Now that most characters have more interesting plots to resolve, Maxxie and Anwar are largely pushed aside with only one comical subplot to occupy them. Maxxie shares his character-centric episode with Tony and Anwar doesn't even get one this time around. That feels like a wasted opportunity since Maxxie's homosexuality and Anwar's conflict with his religious beliefs were interesting subplots of the first season, but there is enough going on in this season to occupy time that you most likely won't notice unless you really like them.

Tony's transformation is a very interesting center of the plot, but the stand-outs are still Cassie and Chris. Cassie finding an equilibrium between her odd personality and making a relationship work is as entertaining and endearing as it was in the first season and Chris' problems play out in funny and emotional ways as his screw-ups catch up to him. The theme of shifting to adulthood runs throughout this season and makes it more relatable. Much improved over the first season.

Episodes to See:
Sid - Full of drama and I just particularly like Sid.
Cassie - We get Hannah Murray playing her crazy alter ego and a lot of things come to a head in this episode.

Episodes to Avoid:
There are no particularly bad episodes, but you could skip the episode Sketch if you really had to since it deals with the unimportant Maxxie/Anwar subplot.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 3-disc set and as part of larger 3-season and 4-season box sets.

4 sisters masturbating with a disability toilet out of 5

Multiple Personality Detective Psycho : Series 1 (2000)

MPD Psycho follows Yosuke Kobayashi, a detective who developed Multiple Personality Disorder after a personal tragedy. Yosuke assumed a new identity and put to rest the reason for his personality split, but years later it comes back to haunt him, manifesting in a number of different ways in the real world.

Yosuke gets called out of retirement to help with an investigation. Meanwhile the appearance of a strange cult with barcodes tattooed on their eyeballs coincides with a number of gruesome murders.

You'll need to fit into specific criteria to get the most from the series. Firstly, you'll need to like mysteries that don't pander to a casual audience; pay attention or you'll get lost (I paid close attention and still felt lost part of the time). You'll need to like stuff that makes your brain melt like candle wax in a furnace. And, lastly but perhaps most importantly, you'll need to be willing to experience Takashi Miike's work. Miike is a Japanese film director with a love of all things bloody and violent. He's no concept of pacing, or perhaps he does and simply doesn't care.

Each episode has its own unique murder technique but also adds to the overall story arc. With there being rarely a satisfactory conclusion to the individual stories, I was left hoping it would all begin to make some kind of sense when the arc was tied up at the end. But this is Miike, to wish for such things is folly.

The series has a cast of sickos and idiots. There's a one-eyed snuff film lover, an idiot police chief, a killer that cuts babies from their mother's wombs, some school girl suicides, etc. It flits from coma-inducing boring to heightened (suggested) gore to slapstick comedy. (The pixelated nudity and gore are a stylistic choice by Miike; it enabled him to suggest things that were forbidden on TV and have the viewer's sick twisted mind fill in the rest.) In the end I was left scratching my head about something. I'll need to give it a second viewing.

6 episodes, approx 56 mins each.

3 severed body parts out of 5

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bleach : Season 1 : The Substitute Arc (2005)

Ichigo Kurosaki is an average fifteen-year-old guy, except he has orange hair and he’s able to see and talk with the dead. One fateful night he meets Rukia Kuchiki, a female Soul Reaper (aka Shinigami) as she battles something evil outside his home, something normal humans shouldn't be able to see but which Ichigo can. She tells him a Soul Reaper’s job is twofold: to help the benign dead soul (known as a Whole) pass peacefully over into the Soul Society and to banish the evil and corrupt lost soul (known as a Hollow) who has a taste for eating human spirits.

Ichigo and Rukia team up out of necessity to combat the Hollows and keep the world safe from their malevolent intent, but not before Ichigo undergoes an unexpected transformation; as a result his life changes from simple teenage embarrassment to full scale supernatural turmoil. Oh, and his father likes to ambush him and kick the crap out of him for fun.

The Bleach anime is one of those series that seem like it'll go on forever. It’s currently up to episode 353 at time of writing. I avoided it for a long time because I guessed it would be another dumb harem show, but it isn’t, it’s actually really good, full of character driven plot and action. It suffers from the usual 'bad guy stands and waits while the good guy talks exposition' fight scenes but less so than other similar shows. It has some wonderful use of music, and the animation is excellent considering it's knocked out so quickly. At this stage, it's highly recommended if ongoing weekly anime is your thing.

20 episodes (01-20), approx 22 mins each.

4 giant vaginas in the sky out of 5

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Crusade (1999)

Crusade is the first failed spin-off from Babylon 5. In the year 2267 a race called the Drakh, bumming around like glue-bags now the Shadow War has ended, release a plague upon the Earth in a final act of douche vengeance. Consequently, all life on Earth will terminate in approximately five years if a cure isn't found.

Earth Gov orders the destroyer ship Excalibur to scour the galaxy, dig beneath alien rocks and generally make themselves a pain in the butt of everyone else in order to find a cure.

The series managed only 13 episodes before being canned. In truth, it wasn't due to the poor quality of the series, it was the TNT network being interfering bints. If you listen to the episode commentaries you'll discover that JMS had big plans for years 2-5: leftover Shadow tech; government cover-ups; the return of everyone's favourite bad guy behind a badge, Alfred Bester; a magical sword; and something called an Apocalypse Box, which you'll understand if you watch the show. Things could have got good.

Much of the cast are unspectacular. Captain Gideon (Gary Cole) is two dimensional; he's supposed to be a stubborn gambler type but he comes off as wooden. His second in command, Lt Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim), is limp, restricted in both his abilities and his function. The only two interesting characters, a female thief named Dureena (Carrie Dobro) and a Technomage named Galen (Peter Woodward), are criminally underused. Woodward steals the show; his ability to portray intrigue and pathos are almost equal that of his famous father, Edward. Additionally, there are a few cameos from B5 cast members to keep fans happy.

If you do watch it take note, because of the studio interference you have the option of the original broadcast order, the revised Sci Fi Channel broadcast order, or the chronological order to choose from. Either way, due to unfilmed episodes, none of those options offer an acceptable linear experience.

The music isn't by Christophe Franke this time, and his absence is painfully obvious.

1½ phallic shaped spaceships out of 5

Friday, December 23, 2011

Babylon 5 : Season 5: The Wheel of Fire (1998)

Season 5 was the ensign red shirt of the Babylon 5 universe. Everything went wrong, and there were a number of reasons why: Studio dithering (see here for info of that); Lochley replacing [spoiler] and trying hard not to be perceived as the obvious replacement that she was; Garibaldi being a twat, and the inclusion of his stupid new girlfriend in story-lines; Zack being the head of security and wanting to be John Wayne in every damn scene; and worst of all, the most hateful thing of all, Byron and his group of irritating hippy commune teeps. Every scene he's in turns my blood to fire. Even the intro was directionless this time, with no obvious arc to reference it had to use sound-bites from the previous seasons.

On the flip side, the episode that was set at Psi-Corps was interesting. I'd have liked that to have been developed more. I know the idea was later used for a trilogy of tie-in novels, but I haven't read any of them.

I've no right to feel cheated, but as a fan I feel supremely and royally wedgied. I know JMS could've did a better job if the suits hadn't stifled him. It's a shame the last season is such a black spot on an otherwise perfect series.

The final episode, however, is a thing of beauty. I had to watch parts of it twice because I'd tears threatening my eyes the first time.

22 episodes, approx 44 mins each.

2 bowls of cold spoo out of 5

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Maxx (1995)

"Cartoons today are so pretentious."
An old nineties cartoon that aired as part of the MTV Oddities block about a big purple pseudo-superhero with huge yellow claws called The Maxx. He thinks himself a hero, but is really just a bum who lives in a box in an alley and is regularly bailed out of jail by Julie Winters, a freelance social worker. They rely on each other to survive the violent and corrupt city while serial rapist and murderer Mr. Gone prowls the streets. Maxx also has a habit of randomly switching between reality and an alternate reality where he roams open plains and protects his Jungle Queen (Julie). He chalks this up to probable insanity, but how much of it is fantasy and reality is unknown to him as is the effect it has on those around him. Gone frequently torments Julie with phone calls about his latest crimes and also seems to have a deeper knowledge of not just Julie, but Maxx as well including his forays into his fantasy land.

Part superhero tale, black comedy and psycho drama makes this an odd cartoon which if you haven't guessed by now is not for kids. The show revolves around themes of rape and murder to violence in media and various tenets of feminism(or as much as they can with just 11 minute episodes). The feminism stuff fell a little flat probably because it was written by two men, Sam Kieth with help from William Messner-Loebs. The animation is very comic-like as it should be since it is often taken panel by panel from the original comic , but is frequently changed and mixed with other artstyles and even live-action. That sounds disjointed, but it blends very well. Very odd, but very interesting.

Episodes to See:
Episode 7 - Dialogue written all in verse with a change in artstyle.

Episodes to Avoid:
Episode 8 - Some cool action with a very comic-like villian, but it is also largely unimportant.

Buyer's Guide:
Originally only available on VHS edited into a single movie with large edits, it has recently been released on DVD as part of Amazon's Manufacture on Demand service with episode commentary. Also available streaming on

3½ There are never therapists in media out of 5

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 2 (2006)

"It is important to draw wisdom from many different places. If you take it from only one place, it becomes rigid and stale. Understanding others, the other elements and the other nations will help you become whole."
Having sufficiently learned waterbending, Aang and the others make their way to the Earth Kingdom in search of an earthbending teacher and to bring crucial intelligence for the war effort to the Earth King in the capitol of Ba Sing Se. Along the way they are harassed by new antagonist, Azula. She is a Fire Nation princess, bending prodigy and a far more dangerous adversary. As Zuko's sister she is sent specifically to succeed where Zuko has failed. A recurring subplot is Aang attempting to master the Avatar State; a superpowered state that affords him the power of all the past avatars. This proves more difficult than bending since there are benders abound, but there are seemingly none who can teach him how to be an avatar.

This season continues the precedent of excellent animation and surprising depth for a kid's show set by the first season while bringing in a fresh batch of the new. New characters, stories, and new twists on old characters particularly on the part of Zuko as circumstance forces him to deal with a new set of problems other than hunting Aang that may change him forever. Any problems of the first season have been remedied and the show hits its stride if it hadn't already. Best of the old and a slice of the new equals some fine entertainment.

Episodes to See:
The Blind Bandit - Best character in the series is introduced and some funny digs at pro wrestling.
Tales of Ba Sing Se - Collection of vignettes that gives some personal perspective for each character particularly Iroh.
Crossroads of Destiny - Chilling season finale with some twists. 

Buyer's Guide:
Available as multiple DVD volumes or as a box set titled Complete Book 2 Collection.

4½ Manly Tears shed for Mako out of 5

Friday, December 16, 2011

Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008)

The debut movie for the new GCI series that chronicles the battles fought during the 3 year time span between Attack of the Clones & Revenge of the Sith is basically the first 3 episodes of the TV show edited together and released theatrically.

The story finds Jabba the Hutt’s son being kidnapped and whoever can recover the Huttlet will gain the favor of the Hutts along with their strategically important hyperspace routes. You will be reminded of this every 8 minutes or so. But what’s the real story is the addition of a character that never existed before. One whose presence could very well completely change the way Episode III would have played out if she had been made before the final film! Or just end up as a quick grab at the audience of 5-12 year old girls and be ungraciously discarded by series end.
She’s the “kid” character that children are meant to see themselves in and while she is kinda annoying at times she’s not as bad as she could have been. Thing is the exchanges with her for the most part aren’t all that engaging either.  Another new character to keep an eye on is the clone leader of the 501st Legion of Stormtroopers, Captain Rex.

While Genndy Tartakovsky had nothing to do with this Iteration sadly, they did keep his style and while it looks good on some things like Yoda and the droids the actual human characters look rather awkward in the simplistic cubist style of Gendy when rendered in 3-D. In fact it does the unthinkable and makes Anakin even more wooden then Hayden Christensen. The hardware on the other hand is all taken from the movie’s CG models so they’re spot on and the environments are alright if not somewhat run of the mill and vacant. Though there were 2 different places that looked so much the same that knowing who was where when got a tad confusing.

Audio wise the sound effects are all genuine Star Wars with Ben Burtt’s iconic noises but the music department is extremely lacking. While there are several remixes and re-recordings of John Williams masterful scores there’s also a bunch of shitty world music along with other vexing arrangements peppered throughout that wouldn’t cut the mustard even if it wasn’t in a Star Wars program.
The voice talent brings back a few of the original Clone Wars actors while replacing others and has Samuel L. Jackson & Christopher Lee reprise their roles along with the ever present Anthony Daniels.

All in all not a bad way to kick off a show; simple straight forward plot, reintroducing old faces while bringing in new ones, ok sword fights, ok gun battles, the dialogue isn’t as terrible as hayden & Natile’s yet is still bland much of the time, and the production is all uniform yet in the end it’s missing something. It doesn’t quite have that “right feel” and instead comes off like one of those cartoons based off of a pre-existing movie that just copies all the memorable stuff and goes on auto pilot instead of adding to the world and exploring it. It says Star Wars but it just doesn’t feel very much like Star Wars or anything else I’d like for it to feel.

Buyer’s Guide:
It’s available on DVD and shouldn’t be too hard to find or too pricy.

3 Jabba’s gay uncle; Capote the Hutt out of 5   

Thursday, December 15, 2011

LOST - Season One [2004]

“Two players, two sides.  One is light, one is dark.”

After surviving a terrible plane crash on a mysterious tropical island 1000 miles off course, the 48 survivors of Oceanic flight 815 encounter many strange and life-threatening occurrences while learning quite a bit about themselves and each other in the process.

What started out as an uninspired idea that was a cross between reality TV series Survivor and William Goldberg’s classic novel Lord Of Flies, LOST became something much more larger and intricate when Alias creator, J.J. Abrams stepped in.  With the help of Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindlelof, Abrams gave LOST a supernatural twist with character back-stories told through flashbacks.  Influenced by elements of Rod Serling’s The New People and the puzzle adventure video game Myst, LOST began developing into a sci-fi/mystery told in a serial form with real human drama supporting the backbone of the story. 

Right off the bat, LOST captures your attention with one of the most incredible opening moments in television history.  A terrible plane crash scenario unfolds on a tropical beach as we follow Dr. Jack Sheppard (wonderfully played by Party Of Five’s Matthew Fox) propelling through the carnage risking his own life to help anybody he can.  From there we are introduced to a large number of interesting characters,  most notably the mysterious John Locke (beautifully portrayed by Millennium & Alias’ Terry O’Quinn).

LOST is first and foremost a character study with each episode focusing on one particular person at a time.  It’s a brilliant idea and always a treat at the beginning of an episode to see which character you’re about to understand a little better and welcome into your heart. 

Even though the events on the island are incredibly underdeveloped and unfold at a very slow pace, it’s still perfect in every way. Had they taken a faster route it might have risked losing focus on the rich details invested into each character.

The first season is a magnificently executed glimpse into what’s in store over the following five seasons.  With it being one of my favorites TV series of all time, I can’t stress enough how much I enjoy every heartbreak, scare, laugh and highly unpredictable plot twist LOST has to offer. 
24 episodes.  44 minutes each.

Episodes To See:
Pilot: 1x01 & 1x02:  A jaw-dropping introduction to the series.  Universally recognized as one the best television pilots ever…and with good reason.
Walkabout: 1x04 & Deus Ex Machina: 1x19: The two Locke-centric episodes of the season are heartbreaking and so very, very interesting. 
Exodus: 1x23, 1x24 & 1x25: The 3-part season finale is astounding and is so well-paced you’d never suspect it was 3 episodes long.

Episodes To Avoid:
Raised By Another: 1x10 & Hearts & Mind: 1x13:  not incredible by any means but still features important plot points that drives the bigger picture.

Buyer’s Guide:
LOST is widely available on DVD/Blu-ray in single season sets or a complete series collection.

5 Eyelands out of 5

Skins Season 1 (2007)

"Fuck-all ever happens in this shitty little town. You have to improvise."
A UK show about teenagers dealing with their problems that range from the usual parties, schoolwork and getting laid to the more grave drugs, absentee parents and eating disorders. Each of the 9 episodes focuses on one character which helps to get to know each of them as they seem to be one-note characters on first impression. There is the bored asshole, his shallow and pretty girlfriend, the idiot best friend, the crazy girl, the fuck-up, etc., but as each of their respective episodes passes we learn more about them and why they act the way they do. As they go through the events of the show, both comical and serious, they grow and change (or not as the case sometimes is).

Not all the characters are particularly likeable and maybe I am just old and therefore biased against teens being dumbasses, so their stupid decisions often irked me rather than garnered sympathy. Particularly why the asshole has friends at all is mystifying, but it did become a plot point albeit much later. But the issues the show deals with are quite engaging as they are told in a frank and honest way. The crisp HD and understated sexual content are also good selling points. Very watchable despite shortcomings.

Episodes to See:
Cassie - Hannah Murray as the crazy girl is entertaining and even endearing.
Chris - One of the more tragically comic episodes.

Episodes to Avoid:
Jal - Nothing particularly wrong with the episode. It's just everything to do with Jal happens almost independently of the rest of the show making her a non-entity that only appears when they need a "straight-man" character.

Buyer's Guide:
Available as a 3-disc DVD box set or streaming on Amazon for $1.99 per episode.

3 kids who need hobbies out of 5

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Avatar: The Last Airbender Season 1 (2005)

”Although his air bending skills are great, he has a lot to learn before he’s ready to save anyone. But I believe Aang can save the world.”
A 100 year war has raged between the 4 nations of the world; The Earth Kingdom, Water Tribes, and Air Nomads versus the Fire Nation. Each nation has their own “benders”; people capable of manipulating their respective element of earth, water, fire and air through the use of martial arts. Only the Avatar can bring peace. As the human incarnation of the planet itself, the Avatar can manipulate all 4 elements and is tasked with maintaining the balance of the world, but he has been missing since before the war began.

Two siblings, Sokka and Katara, from the Southern Water Tribe find a boy frozen in an iceberg, He is Aang, an airbender and the new Avatar. Free from the iceberg, Aang must now fulfill his duty as Avatar and bring an end to the war, but first needs to master the other 3 elements and become a fully-realized Avatar. This proves a problem as there are few who can teach him. They embark on Aang’s flying sky bison named Appa to travel the world in search of a waterbending teacher, but are constantly harassed by Zuko, a banished Fire Nation prince looking to restore his honor, and Zhao, an ambitious commander in the Fire Nation navy out for the glory that capturing the only threat to victory would bring.

The series proved a hit for Nickelodeon as it found an audience outside of its target demographic. Creators Michael DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko created a show that was very archetypical and had all the trappings of a kids show, but it was done very well. The lack of blood, often cheesy morality lessons and G-rated violence don’t stop the show from having some interesting themes and events including separation of families during war, racism and genocide. The effort and detail is evident in not just the characters and story, but also the authentic martial arts and asian influence that that make up the aesthetic. So audiences get a well done Hero’s Journey with cool supernatural martial arts that can appeal to all ages. Excellent.

Episodes You Must See:
The King of Omashu - Great humor and action.
The Siege of the North - Pretty epic as it should be for a 2-part finale

Episodes to Avoid:
The Great Divide - It could be removed entirely and not affect the series one bit. Throw in some annoying characters and this one is a definite skip.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available in multiple DVD volumes or as a box set titled Complete Book 1 Collection. Outside the US it is called The Legend of Aang instead of Last Airbender since the word “bender” apparently has some negative connotations.

4 Lotus Tiles out of 5

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Babylon 5 : Season 4 : No Surrender, No Retreat (1997)

The events of the Season 3 finale are carried over into Season 4. It closes some doors that were opened in Season 2 and opens some new doors that won't be shut until the final episode of Season 5. I like to think of it as B5's Dune season; expect political intrigue, religious motifs, betrayals, power hungry Emperors, plans within plans, assassinations, and wars on a planetary scale. Elsewhere, the season deals with love, loss, identity, the desire to change and the things we must sacrifice to gain the ability to carry out such change. The Man In-between is revealed. And there are some exciting space battles for those that like that sort of thing.

Londo and G’Kar continue to grow and to further complicate their already complex relationship. Both men are two of the finest small screen actors that I've ever seen in sci-fi. The penultimate episode gives Ivanova a chance to show that she really can act after all, she manages in five minutes what she never managed in four years previous: to make us care about her. I almost wept.

NOTE: Reportedly, JMS was told that he had to wrap-up everything because he wasn't getting a fifth season, so he did, he packed in two years of story and gave the series an ending that made sense and was bittersweet. Things move almost too fast because of it. Then the ass-hats told him that he had a fifth season after all, so he moved the bittersweet final episode to the very end of Season 5 instead, and in its place put something pointless to close Season 4 (The Deconstruction of Falling Stars). I don't know how other B5 fans feel about it, but I prefer to end a viewing of Season 4 after episode 21. (I said in my Season 2 post that we should suffer shit episodes for the greater good, but Falling Stars is my one exception to that.)

22 episodes, approx 44 mins each.

4½ things that should not be used out of 5

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Gantz (2004)

Some people fall victim to a horrific fate. At their moment of death they are saved and brought to a non-descript apartment overlooking Tokyo tower. But this is no rescue, for a mysterious and seemingly omnipotent black orb called Gantz has brought them there for a reason: To hunt down and kill alien life forms hiding on earth or die in the process.  Upon arrival the draftees only have a brief time to become acquainted and gear up before being teleported to the mission’s battle zone.   The challenges they face are hard and people die from them, a lot. This forces the characters to question their own morals; do you risk your life to save someone who wouldn’t do the same for you? Would you give your life for an individual who everyone else considers worthless?
In this series that’s chock full of blood, gore, sex, & horror some characters have a hard time bringing themselves to kill even for self preservation, others take great joy in being able to hunt and kill a sentient being. Petty quarrelling among the group and stubborn headedness lead to many lost lives all the while someone else is trying to make sure everyone can make it back alive and safe.  

All in all this is a very exciting premise for a show that combines all the camaraderie, tragedy, suspense, & heroism of both war and horror genres along with the kickassiness of Men In Black or any of the Spandex robot karate guy fighting rubber suit monster shows that Japan has. These elements create a high sense of danger and suspense that just might make it worth the watch providing you can get over the 2 biggest flaws of the series.

The 1st problem being the pacing, both the episodes themselves and the series in a whole. One good example is that the group could be in the middle of fighting a monster and then a few of them would get into a moral debate that lasts for half the episode while the monster just kinda waits for them to finish. Then there’s one time a character was being captious after a successful attack and because they didn’t shot right away get’s killed by a laser beam. And the fact that the missions last for several episodes means there isn't as much variety with the monster designs and situations that everyone gets into as there could have been provided the series was a bit tighter.
The 2nd and by far biggest is the ending. Totally unsatisfying in that a bunch of questions about the world, mechanics, character development and plot of the show are left unanswered. I know that the manga that this is based off of went on for much longer than the anime and thus the “true” ending could not be used but if they’re making an adaptation of their own then a new proper ending should have been made.

26 episodes, approx 23 minutes each

Episodes you must see:
I dunno? No one episode is any better than the others and the few with no fighting in them have character development so just start with episode 1 and work your way up.

Episodes to Avoid:
The ending blew so I guess the last 4 episodes aren’t as great.

Buyer’s Guide:
Technically 2 seasons, this has been released in several different collections and I believe all of the American releases are of the uncensored cut of the series but you should check before you buy.

3 old fat ladies and portly middle aged dudes looking none too shabby in skin tight battle suits out of 5