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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

BOARDWALK EMPIRE - Season 1 [2010]

We all have to decide for ourselves how much sin we can live with.

The Sopranos veteran Terence Winter, enlists the aid of Martin Scorsese and Mark Wahlberg to bring his fantastical vision of Boardwalk Empire to life.   Inspired by Atlantic City crime kingpin Enoch L. Johnson's reign in the 1920's during the Prohibition in New Jersey, the series takes pages right out of history and inserts a few of it's own for dramatic purposes.  The oddly charismatic Steve Buscemi takes the lead role as the corrupt and powerful treasurer, Nucky Thompson, who despite all the terrible things he does you can't help but cheer on.  Michael Pitt, Kelly MacDonald, Michael Shannon, Michael Kenneth Williams and Dabney Coleman round out the fantastic cast who all seem to disappear into their roles with graceful ease. 

Most folks seem quick to compare Boardwalk to The Sopranos, simply because it’s an HBO series about organized crime run by a former writer of the modern classic series.  In fact, unlike The Sopranos, Boardwalk almost immediately gives off the feeling of a much larger scope and aspiration to explode into something far more precisely executed.  Like Deadwood, it meshes fictional characters with the non-fictional which is quite interesting, however the potential of being a speedbump in the future.  Taking a page out of The Wire's writing style, Empire never stops or slows down to explain to the viewer who each character is, instead it assumes we're smart enough to keep up and allows it to unfold as the series dives deeper into the story. 

With some beautiful cinematography, wonderful music, mesmerizing actors and believable sets, Boardwalk Empire is instantly likeable.  With that said, I can't help but be disappointed the series never takes any real risks or chances, considering the subject matter and the fictional storytelling based in a real world.  A gangster HBO series created by a Sopranos writer produced by Scorsese and starring Buscemi has a lot to live up with those names alone and it nearly does.  I suspect this first season is just the beginning and it shows promise of becoming something I can't wait to see. 

12 episodes.  Roughly 50-60 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets. Also available from iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

3½ Alcohol Funerals out of 5

Monday, September 17, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 3 (2010)

I chose a half measure when I should have gone all the way... 
No more half measures.
Season 2 expanded the scope of the show and revealed that Walt's actions can have consequences that affect people other than himself. Season 3 sees him and Jesse dealing with the fallout. Jesse does so with rehab and Walt does less successfully by trying to reconnect with his now estranged family. Jesse learns to accept he is a bad guy while Walt chooses to end his criminal activity as it has cost him the reason he began in the first place, but both of those decisions may be premature. Meanwhile 2 Hispanic assassins cross the Mexican border in search of Walt and the stress and frustration of Hank's job begin to affect his mental health.

Like the above quote, the show isn't going by halves now. Everything has higher stakes. The transformation of the two main characters has begun in earnest now as they waffle between two extremes.  The excellent recurring characters have become regulars and there is more tension that is so palpable that it feels all the better when it is relieved in spectacular fashion. Slower burn leads to a more delicious steak. The subplots involving anyone other than the main players can still be irritating and feel like they are only there out of necessity (looking at you again, Skylar) and the black comedy moments have all but disappeared. Quite an enhanced season that felt the tiniest bit janky at some points.

Episodes to See:
One Minute - One of those aforementioned tension relievers.
Half Measures - And another with some excellent performances all around including new regular Jonathan Banks.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu Ray box sets. Also available from iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Instant Video.

Homemade flyswatters  out of 5

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Legend of Korra (2012)

With the Aang Gaang’s continuing adventures being told in various Dark Horse comics titles, The Legend of Korra jumps ahead by 75 years after the original Avatar:TheLast Airbender series. Korra, a bending prodigy and next incarnation of the Avatar must complete her training and bring order to a city plagued with ever growing corruption and social unrest.
Just like its predecessor, Korra’s voice acting is fantastic and many of the more known talent easily disappear into their rolls enough for you to not even notice them if you didn’t look up their IMDB. One was sort of jarring to hear talk though. Production wise the art design and animation are all sublime and never look rushed or short changed. While the music is an audible treat which sounds quite like Chinese Jazz from the roaring 20’s.
Unfortunately the series hits several large snags in the story and character department. Now the characters themselves are all lovable and cover a diverse range of backgrounds and archetypes.  And the story lines are a heck of a lot more complex than the standard fantasy road trip to save the world. But with so much content and only 12 episodes things get messy past the first few installments. Civil rights, terrorism, romance, friendship, spiritual empowerment, and moral ambiguity are all touched upon too briefly and then put to the side for next development. This leaves many of the cast not as fleshed out or likeable in the end as they were in the beginning. I also have to say that the fight scenes aren’t as good due to the way so many characters are taken down so quickly with just token resentence. 
With all its shortcomings I can still recommend Korra. However I can’t help but feel that I’d rather be watching the continuing adventures of Aang in its stead.

12 episodes. Approx 24 Mins each.

Episodes to See:
There’s only 12, just watch all of them.

Buyer’s Guide:
Not available on DVD or Bluray yet. But when it is I’d expect to pay between $30 and $50.  You can snag it on iTunes right now.

3 Sexy Older Ladies out of 5

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Planet of the Apes: TV Series (1974)

Spin-off TV series of the PotA movie series. The human population can talk, which makes sense for dramatic purposes. Before getting upset about such changes it's worth considering that the first Planet of the Apes film was set in the year 3978. The TV series is set sometime during or after the year 3085 (it's never specifically stated). That leaves a possible 893 years between series and film, which is ample time for mankind to forget how to speak for any number of reasons.

Alternatively, the series can be considered as a separate entity, as simply another telling of the original Pierre Boulle novel. That makes more sense to me because it avoids a number of other small inconsistencies with the films.

Enough jibber jabber. Is it any good? Yes, in a typical low budget 1970s kind of way. It starts out with an ongoing story arc clearly defined but drops it somewhere along the way. I'm guessing it would've resurfaced had the series been allowed to come to fruition. Unfortunately, it got cancelled after just fourteen episodes.

The wonderful Roddy McDowall returns to the franchise. He plays a different character than he did in the films but is again sympathetic to the humans. Being caught between two worlds and unwelcome in both means he receives most of our sympathies as viewers, despite being covered in fur.

The story requires that Roddy and the two human protagonists are forever moving from town to town. It gives the writers the opportunity to create their own sub-section within the ape world while still remaining a part of the larger premise.

There was to be three distinct zones: an ape city with human slaves; a rural zone where humans are allowed to farm provided they provide produce for the ape city; and a Forbidden Zone that's inhabited by rebellious humans. The last zone was held back and never got the chance to be explored.

Continuity is maintained through each individual episode by having the trio of escapees pursued by a butt-hurt gorilla, determined to see them shot for their "crimes" against the accepted doctrine.

Like the book and films it uses the format to comment on various social problems that are still relevant today. It mostly plays it safe but occasionally leaves you in no doubt as to what it's attempting to say. While it probably won't hold the attention of the average viewer weaned on modern TV, if you're an Apes fan and can appreciate 1970s productions then it's an entertaining journey for as far as it gets. The world is believable and the characters are developed enough that they grow to be more than just the aforementioned vehicles for social commentary.

14 episodes, approx. 47 minutes each.

3 bananas and brown eyes out of 5

Sunday, September 9, 2012

BREAKING BAD - Season Two [2009]

How can you suggest that we kill a man,
and you can't even open the gun?

After a bumpy, yet compelling, first season, X-files vet, Vince Gilligan’s darkly comical crime thriller Breaking Bad comes completely into it's own during it's sophomore year.  Season one laid out the basic outlandish premise of the series, while delicately setting it in a world all too real to allow the viewer to truly believe in it.  We greeted the characters into our lives and became familiar with the meshing of science and violence, while realizing the potential danger such a situation beholds.  It still had it's fair share of hits and misses and that's where in it's second year Gilligan and the gang iron out the creases and hit every note with skillfully balanced perfection.   This might be because they had the entire run of 13 episodes planned from beginning to end before they even started filming.  Something Gilligan has said paid off quite well but would never want to do again due to pressuring time restraints. 

Season two picks up directly where one left off and runs with it, without ever turning back while never fully breaking out into action pieces or melodrama which most television series revert to all too often.  Instead the tension of the series, is built around the luxury of being able to linger on long, drawn out scenes of seemingly nothing.  With a little thought, you'll figure out everything is done for a reason and no frame is ever wasted.

The second year delivers on the surprises and twists just enough to never become ridiculously unbelievable or expected.  To compliment Bryan Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul and Dean Norris’ flawless performances, there's a slew of noteworthy work from guest stars like Bob Odenkirk, Giancarlo Esposito, Mark Margolis, Krysten Ritter, John De Lancie and Danny Trejo.

Like a Hitchcockian character driven Western/noir adapted for television by The Coen Brothers, Breaking Bad Season Two is the perfect chapter to really get the ball rolling into the nightmare that it's soon to become. 

13 Episodes.  47 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in both DVD and Blu-Ray sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

5 one-eyed burn victim teddy bears out of 5