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

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

THE KILLING - Season 1 [2011]

After the tremendous success of Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead it was quite apparent that the AMC network was on a winning streak.  Unfortunately with the triumphs of those three shows, a little murder mystery series snuck in through the backdoor and somehow got lost in all the hoopla.

The Killing, inspired by the Danish series Forbrydelsen, is a compelling crime drama that absorbs the viewer's interest into it ever so slowly with it’s moody atmosphere and subdued character arc reveals. 
Developed by former Cold Case writer Verea Sud, The Killing aims to stand apart from the legions and legions of other crime dramas littering the airwaves these days and it does so by leaning closer to a similar storytelling style as Twin Peaks.  Instead of wrapping up the mystery in one episode only to stumble into a whole new one the next week, The Killling follows a single case over the entire season. 

Following the murder of a Seattle high school girl Rosie Larsen, it shows how the case heavily affects three different plot lines and reveals how each character has a secret to hide.  It's absolutely heartbreaking, awkward and disturbing how well it's portrayed by the ensemble cast.

Beautifully shot, with Vancouver, Canada standing in for Seattle, The Killing makes the most of the rain, the clouds and of course: the dark.  With the screen engulfed in shadows and nary a color to brighten things up, with the exception of the dead girl’s clothes and room, it sometimes feels just a little too heavy for the average viewer.

It's slow pacing and story stretched out over the full season requires patience from the viewer and that ultimately killed it's ratings.  Which is a shame, because it's such a brilliantly structured series that never gets overly complicated or silly to ruin the mood.

13 episodes.  55 minutes each.

Episodes to see:
Watch them all.  They’re all part of a complete story that stays solid from start to finish.

Buyer’s Guide:
Available on iTunes & Amazon in Standard & High Defintion editions.
Available on DVD & Blu-ray on March 13, 2012.

4 cigarettes out of 5

Welcome to the NHK (2006)

Anime is known for being a world of adventure. Heroes (and heroines) are consummate badasses. Villains range from heartbreakingly tortured to sickeningly evil, and are often a compelling mixture of both. It's a place where people punch each other from within the confines of a giant robot suit, where kids have the power to destroy or save the entire world, and where even death can be defeated by the power of love and friendship.

Welcome to the NHK is none of those things. It's full of characters are human, often depressingly so, and there are no magical fixes to their problems, nor any evil villains who are the source of them. The show's lead, Tatsuhiro Satou, can barely stand to leave his own house, and constructs elaborate fantasies that explain away his own shortcomings. It may not sound like the most exciting show in the world, and sometimes it isn't, but these characters and their stories are incredibly involving, and I want to root for them even when all they do is sit in front of their computers and look at porn.

Welcome to the NHK is entrenched in Japanese culture. It deals with the nation's hikikomori epidemic, and one of its most significant plotlines revolves around ero-games. But in spite of that, it's an intensely relatable story that I think has a universal appeal. The show is so true to life that it may be off-putting- its characters are screwed up people who aren't always likable. Sometimes they act like jerks, and almost every member of the cast is their own worse enemy. It can be torturous watching these guys sabotage every chance at happiness they get.

But Welcome to the NHK isn't a dark, gloomy series about how depressing life is. It's an exploration of the incredible amount of absorption self-loathing requires, a reminder that better things are often easily within your reach. It's a powerful look at the reasons why we look down on others, a reassurance that everyone is screwed up in their own ways, and that's okay. It's a testament to living even when life doesn't seem like it has much to offer, and proof anime doesn't need robots and giant swords to be awesome.

I recommend watching the series subbed, as I find the voice-acting to be stronger, but the dub is more than passable.

24 episodes. 24 minutes each.

Episodes To See:
Welcome to Heaven!- This episode and the arc surrounding it are probably my favorite of the entire series. I don't know if I've ever related to a character as much as I relate to Tatsuhiro here.

Welcome to the Winter Day!- A great example of just how human the characters in Welcome to the NHK are allowed to be.

Episodes to Avoid:
Welcome to the NHK is a character piece through and through, and every episode is worth watching because of it.

Buyer’s Guide:
A delightfully cheap "value edition" was released in 2010, and is still readily available on Amazon.

5 conspiracies named after television networks out of 5.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

LOST - Season Four [2007]

"You can't change the future."

After the game changing season three finale, LOST had a lot to live up to with the promise of a brand new storytelling format.

Instead of telling an alternate story through flashbacks, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse decided to shake things up a bit and introduce the concept of flashforwards to the all ready complicated non-linear plotlines.
While the present day storyline remains on the island, the flashforwards follow six survivors who got off the island and are known to the world as the Oceanic Six.  These six are trying to reintegrate themselves into their normal lives...but this is LOST and no action, good or bad, goes unpunished.

Season Four continues adding fascinating new characters to the story line without ever feeling like they're there just to fall back on lazy writing.  Character actor Jeremy Davies as twitchy physicist Daniel Faraday and Michael Emerson's SAW co-star Ken Leung as the cranky and sarcastic ghost whisperer Miles Straume are both entertaining and fantastic characters.  While Rebecca Mader as bitchy anthropologist Charlotte Lewis is most unwelcome with her irritating attitude and tendency to butt heads.  80's b-actor Jeff Fahey can't get enough screen time as the dry humored pilot Frank Lapidus who seems like he just wants to have a drink. Kevin Durand is an intimidating element of the show as dangerous mercenary Martin Keamy, a character whom you just love to hate.

Unfortunately due to the Writer's Guild Of America Strike in 200-2008, LOST's fourth season run was cut short.  Lindelof and Cuse had no choice but to make the best of it and they succeeded in every way. With TV's Buffy/Angel writer Drew Goddard and Y: The Last Man/Runaways comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan on board, Season Four kicked ass from start to finish.  It resulted in one of the best hours of television ever with the Desmond-centric episode The Constant, which dares you not to shed a tear by the end of it.  A hand-to-hand combat sequence with Sayid Jarrah is quite possibly one of my favorite TV fight scenes ever.

By the time the perfectly fast-paced Season Four comes to an end it's made very apparent that LOST knows exactly where it's headed and every minute counts now.  

14 episodes. 44 minutes each.

Episodes To See:
4x01:  The Beginning Of The End:  Hurley-centric episode that is just wow.  Action-packed, emotional and more twists and turns you won't be expecting.
4x02: Confirmed Dead: Freighter-centric episode.  A brisk, yet fulfilling introduction to each of the new characters on the series.
4x05: The Constant: Desmond-centric.  Not enough space to go into why this episode is THE BEST. Michael Giacchino's music is noteworthy.
4x12, 4x13 & 4x14: There's No Place Like Home: Oceanic Six-centric.  These 3 episodes fly by so fast you're left screaming at the end for more.

Episodes To Avoid:
None.  This is LOST's best season without a doubt.  There's no time to dwell on Vincent's poop.

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

5 Time Traveling Bunnies out of 5

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spaced: Series 1 (2000)

A British comedy sitcom written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson. The 'story' focuses on Tim and Daisy, two jobless dreamers from London that get a flat under false pretences. They have to remember to keep up the pretence or risk eviction when the ageing and randy divorcee landlady Marsha, who lives upstairs, comes to visit. Trying to remember to sustain the lie when you spend your time smoking weed, drinking and playing video games without sleep is tough.

There are occasional visitations from friends to keep the two flatmates company, the anguished and socially awkward artist Brian from downstairs, the snobbish image fixated bimbo Twist, and my favourite, the moustachioed gun-happy, failed soldier Mike (played by the always entertaining Nick Frost).

The show is directed by Edgar Wright, who brought a very stylistic approach to the visuals. There are a lot of popular culture, film, music, comic book and video game references that someone not embroiled in that world won't catch, and as a consequence much of the subtle humour will go unnoticed. The obvious jokes that everyone will see are quick fire verbal put-downs or visibly awkward moments that remind us why we hate most people (or is that just me?). It lapses frequently into non-sequitur territory, but that's part of the charm.

If you're in your mid-twenties to mid-thirties and know the difference between adamantium and Adam Ant then you'll maybe find a laugh or three in Spaced.

7 episodes, approx 25 minutes each.

3½ cohabitation charades out of 5

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

LOST – Season Three [2006]

"I did not ask for the life that I was given.
But it was given, nonetheless.
And with it...
...I did my best."

Apart from the stellar season premiere, the third season of LOST suffered from a slow-paced mess that piled on the aimless questions one after another for about 7 episodes.  

Thankfully, the series went on a 12-week hiatus, giving the writers time to dig themselves out of the hole they were in and start taking aim at a final destination.  During this time, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse announced that they had a plan and mapped out the series to finish on season six.

After the break, the remaining 16 episodes were top-notch front to back (if you don’t count the crapfest episode guest-starring the icky Bai Ling).  The smoke monster is finally shown just how dangerous it actually can be.  Scenes between enigmatic Others’ leader Benjamin Linus and John Locke are some of the season’s finest highlights, with Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn turning in performances worthy of great applaud.  Desmond Hume (Henry Ian Cusick) is revealed to be much more important to the events on the island than we previously thought.  Our hearts are broken by the first casualty of a character we’ve actually grown to love, instead of some of the other ho-hum demises of not so great characters in the series’ past.  Elizabeth Mitchell joins the cast as Juliet Burke who is most welcome addition to the formula, while  newcomers Kiele Sanchez and Rodrigo Santoro as Nikki & Paulo aren’t so welcome. 

What should be mentioned, as I wanted to before on my previous reviews but just ran out of room, is Michael Giacchino’s brilliant orchestrated score for the series really stands out in it's third year.  LOST simply would not be the same without his music as it has a voice of it’s own that’s so distinct you couldn’t mistake it for anything else.

It seems every year, LOST is upping the ante with it’s season finales and completely blowing our minds.  This year has one of the most haunting final scenes the series will ever see.  Wow.  Just wow.

All in all, the series begins feeling like it’s slowly being built brick by brick to reveal a big finish, instead of leading the viewer on towards nothing but more questions never to be answered.

23 episodes.  44 minutes each.

Episodes To See:
3X01: A Tale Of Two Cities:  Jack-centric episode.  Great start to the season.
3X08: Flashes Before Your Eyes:  Desmond-centric.  C’mon.  It’s Desmond.
3X21: Greatest Hits:  Charlie-centric. 
3x22 & 3x23: Through The Looking Glass:  Jack-centric.  The season finales keep getting better and better.

Episodes To Avoid:
3x09:  Stranger In A Strange Land:  Jack-centric.  A completely pointless episode with no redeeming qualities whatsover.   Plus…Bai Ling is terrible.

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

4 fish biscuits out of 5 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Birds of Prey (2003)

BoP is set in New Gotham, built atop the ruins of old Gotham. Batman went AWOL years ago and left the city without a hero; perhaps he got tired of being the only one of the League that had to take the Bat-bus. In his absence, Oracle (Barbara Gordon) and Huntress (Helena Kyle) continue to fight crime. They suck at it. That's okay because almost everything about BoP sucks, so they're at least well-suited.

A third team member (a teenage metahuman—it's not even worth explaining what that is) strolls in and upsets the wonky apple cart. The dynamic trio struggle with bad guys, bad acting and poorly scripted interpersonal relationships. There's a cringe-inducing romance between one of the team and a police detective who has a poker permanently up his ass. It's as passionate as a damp patch on the bed sheets that an aged cat left behind.

Along the way a number of DC characters drop in as guest of the week; that's what kept me watching. I wanted to see who they would choose and whether or not they would attempt to tie the story in with existing continuities. There's a vague reference to Smallville. It's implied the team are aware of what's happening there, but I'm guessing for legal reasons it was never developed further. Both shows share the same producers.

Dr. Harleen Quinzel pops up regularly to give the series something resembling a story arc. She's the most interesting part of the show, but like all the rest suffers from some underdeveloped and lazy characterisation. It picks up around episode 9. It drags itself out of the pit of awfulness and reaches heights of mere mediocrity until episode 12. The double length 13th and final episode is actually really good, with the exception of an extended and dodgy fight scene. It gives the sense of camaraderie, danger and heart that everything prior to it had been lacking. It's ironic that the last episode is the very best.

BoP had the potential to be more adult orientated than Smallville. Most of the characters are orphaned adults (because everyone knows all orphans grow up to be superheroes) with unresolved issues that could've produced something dark and complex. It didn't. It got cancelled after one season.

13 episodes, most are approx 43 minutes each.

1½ vigilante dress code out of 5