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

Saturday, May 25, 2013

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT - Season Three [2005]

"You know, 
your average American male is in a perpetual state of adolescence, 
you know, arrested development."

After two years of struggling in the ratings, the critically acclaimed but sadly neglected Mitch Hurwitz sitcom Arrested Development was ready to close shop at the FOX network.  Normally the network would cancel a show with such low ratings after 10 episodes or so but they saw the brilliance and passion put into the series and allowed to tread water for a total of three years, so for once, we can't really blame the network for letting it go underwater.  

The third season continues it's attack of rapid fire jokes, blink and you'll miss them punchlines and twisted characters galore.  With knowledge of being cancelled the writers were able to sneak in as many in-jokes and nods to the loyal fans as they possibly could without ever worrying about having to attract new viewers.  However it didn't stop them from sarcastically pleading the viewer, even though they knew it well past too late, to "tell your friends about this show".  Graced with some wonderful guest stars (including Charlize Theron in probably the funniest thing I think I've seen her ever do) the regular cast are firing on all cylinders which would eventually allow them all to move onto bigger more successful projects but never quite as good as this series.  This season contains perhaps one of the funniest scenes I have ever seen on television, causing me to hyper-ventilate, that has to do with a mole and a jet pack.  One cast member I should mention is Micheal Cera who is constantly criticized for playing the same awkward kid role over and over but this is the first time he does it and where it works best as he's put into these awful situations.  

I can go on and on about how fantastic and witty this show was but it's best you just go out and check it out for yourself from the very beginning.  

13 episodes. 22 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in DVD box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

 4 Wee Britains out of 5

LITTLE BRITAIN USA [2009]

"Britain and America:
It's always been us against the world.
If there's a country to be invaded
or a war to be waged, we do it together.
So what if the rest of the world hates us.
...they're all foreign anyway."

Every now and then a television comedy sketch show gets it right, like early incarnations of Saturday Night Live, SCTV, In Living Color, The Kids In The Hall and now British funny guys Matt Lucas & David Walliams' Little Britain.  It was a refreshingly funny and often crude look at British society, politics, commercialism, sports and everyday life, both rich & poor and young & old, all stitched together with Doctor Who's Tom Baker giving a satirical no-nonsense commentary like it were a documentary.   After three years of doing this, HBO asked Lucas & Walliams to bring it over to America and give it a good ol' Yankee spin, leaving fans wondering just what the hell they were going to do with it.

What's great about this version is it's not simply just American satire copying the British series but it's a comparison of the two nations and how similar they are in self-superiority and unwillingness to listen to anybody else.  Several characters are brought over from the British series and placed into an American setting making for some hilarious situations they couldn't otherwise explore in their home country.   A host of new American characters are brought into the mix, taking jabs at obesity, homosexuals in denial, the need to cling to the American "dream", washed-up celebrities and children exposed to a filthy-mouthed culture. 

The series doesn't always work as it could have done with a larger variety of characters and themes to explore and take a swipe at.  They're always funny but with only 6 episodes in the series, you'd think they would try to broaden the cast of characters a bit more instead of repeating themselves as much as they do.  Apparently America didn't think it was as funny laughing at themselves as it was laughing at the Brits and the series was swiftly cancelled without so much as a shriek.  It's a shame because the possibilities were endless but since the first series already started to repeat itself, I don't know if they would ever explore any further.  

6 episodes.  Roughly 30 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in DVD box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

3 gun erections out of 5

Monday, May 20, 2013

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT - Season Two [2004]

"It's called taking advantage.
It's what gets you ahead in life."

After the perfect execution of the debut season of the criminally underwatched sitcom Arrested Development, Mitch Hurwitz & co. had a lot to live up to.  Four episodes shorter than the previous season, the laughs are as strong as ever and the serialized storyline is even more confusing if you miss an episode or two. 

This time around, George Bluth Sr. is a wanted fugitive, secretly hiding in the Bluth family attic, known only to Michael who has every right to just turn him in but won't for various complicated reasons.  Several other plotlines are introduced into the mix that spiderweb into a manic mess of chaos that always seems to meet up at the end of the season.  The plotting of the season might not be as tightly wound as the first year but some of the jokes are the funniest things I've ever seen.  It rewards viewers with multiple viewings, as I'm still catching things I've never noticed before, including many in-jokes that are a direct "fuck you" to the way the Fox network was treating the program.  The plots seem to have a more outlandish style than before, by including a flesh-eating seal, a "wolf" on the loose in L.A. and even David Cross in a surreal version of Mrs. Doubtfire.  

It also continues it's trend of wonderfully funny guest stars to support the strong ensemble cast, including Henry Winkler (who actually jumps over a shark in one ep), Liza Minelli, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Martin Short, Carl Weathers, J.K. Simmons and even The Blue Man Group.

With every critic and their dog calling the show brilliant, funny, clever and "the best sitcom of the 2000's", it's hard to come up with anything that hasn't been said before but the fact is they're all correct and I'll gladly beat the dead horse and agree with everything that's been said before.  The series is not for everybody but I shouldn't have to tell you that anymore.  As Maeby Fünke says in an episode, shortly after Fox tried pair the show with Family Guy, only to have it fail even more, " Why are we even going after this idiot demographic?"

18 episodes. 22 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in DVD box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

4 Lucille and the Loose Seals out of 5

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mortal Kombat: Conquest (1998)

I’ve always believed it ridiculous that in almost all TV shows aimed at a young adult demographic (Buffy and Angel are the worst offenders) everyone knows kung fu or some other kind of mixed martial arts, no matter their background. With MK: Conquest there’s a reason almost everyone knows kung fu. The folks that don’t know how to fight get killed (or, if they’re important to the plot, they get saved by the chivalrous heroes and then usually end up dead anyhow).

The show is set "...centuries ago, in a time of darkness and fury," which translates to an undefined pre-industrial era, in a place called Zhuzin. It's a market town surrounded by forests and convenient tombs. Despite being in the dark ages, hair gel, cosmetic surgery and support bras seem to be widely available.

There are three main protagonists. Most importantly is Kung Lao (Paolo Montalbán), a monk who owns only one pair of trousers. It’s he that fights in the MK tournament as the defender of Earthrealm.

Fighting alongside Kung Lao (but not in the tournament) is the hot-headed man-slut Siro (Daniel Bernhardt). Siro also owns only one pair of trousers but he has two different shirts. The ladies like that kind of thing.

And finally, the female of the group, the ex-thief, Taja (Kristanna Loken). She’s an anomaly in the MKC universe. The show is filled with the kind of plastic female the media tells us we want, the kind with provocative clothing, shallow personality, fake tits, etc, but Taja is the opposite. She dresses sensibly most of the time, has an athletic physique and can count to ten without using her fingers.

Together the three friends defend Earthrealm from the forces of Outworld that wish to conquer it for various underdeveloped and cloudy reasons.

Overseeing the trio, like an absent father, is the Thunder God Raiden. He gives advice but is forbidden from taking action against the aggressors.

Expect at least two fights per episode, accompanied by bad music. The combat is completely unrealistic but at the same time it’s some of the most impressive I've ever seen outside of a Chinese TV show. Some of the people prancing about and doing unnecessary back flips really know their shit!

22 episodes, approx 44 minutes each. The last 5 or 6 eps are the highlight.

3 impractical face masks out of 5

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT - Season One [2003]

"Now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything
and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together."

With the help of Ron Howard as both executive producer and narrator, Mitch Hurwitz, co-creator of The Ellen Show, was able to turn Arrested Development into one of the most consistently funny and refreshingly well written sitcoms to grace American television sets.  It centers around widowed father Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) as he struggles to hold his abysmally dysfunctional socialite family and their once wealthy business together, after their father and CEO George Bluth (Jeffrey Tambor) is sent to prison.  

Shot like a hand-held documentary series, with frequent flashbacks and archival photographs, the series keeps a frantic, yet pleasing pace, while depending on the wonderfully assembled ensemble cast to glue it all together.  It's rare that such a large cast works so well together but this group hasn't a weak link in the bunch.  Every single interaction and combination of characters makes for hilarious and interesting moments while constantly driving the plot forward.  Like Seinfeld, each episode begins with multiple unrelated plots that all seem to cleverly meet up in the end, usually resulting in complete disaster.  

Unlike most sitcoms, Arrested Development is told in a serialized episodic format, so it's best you watch it from the first episode, which seemed to frustrate several viewers who wanted their shows to be forgotten minutes after it was over.  AD never panders to those unable to think outside the idiot box and instead asks for your close attention and memory to understand several of it's "blink and you'll miss them" jokes.  As a fancy way to wrap things up in a short epilogue format, it tags on a "false" preview of the next episode, which did nothing but infuriate dullards who just didn't seem to understand what it really was and needed their humor spoon fed to them.  

Normally it takes a half a season or full year for a series to find it's groove but Arrested Development knew exactly what it was doing from the first episode and makes it all the more stronger in the long run.  Sadly, the series struggled to find a proper audience and became that "I heard it's good but never seen it" series, which is quite frankly infuriating when Chuck Lorre sitcoms are shat out like hotcakes for years on end.  

22 episodes.  22 minutes each.

Buyer's Guide:
Available in DVD box sets and on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon.

5 Families With Low Self Esteem out of 5

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hell Girl: Season 1 (2005)

According to legend, at the stroke of midnight the website known as Hell Link becomes accessible. A blank page appears giving you a chance to avenge a single grievance, at a price of course. Type in a name, click send and damn them to Hell. Summoned by your injustice, Hell Girl Ai Enma and her cadre are let loose to torment and destroy the one responsible.

Like J-horror classics Ring, Kairo, and One-Missed Call, HG uses Japanese folklore and updates it with a technological twist. The stories are simple but at times heart-wrenching and when the wronged enter into their unholy covenant, it is truly satisfying to witness Hell Girl take vengeance on the accused.

While extremely formulaic from episode 1, it is the glimpses of the young avenger Ai Enma in her domicile which fascinate and lead you to ponder her mysterious origins. Through viewing several episodes you begin to see that she is not just a demonic entity. This opens up moral conflictions which make the latter half of the series the most watchable.

A break in the formula comes when two characters somehow linked to her past become aware of these deeds and ensue her in effort to stop them. This lends to the inevitable revelation of her shocking origin at the end of the series.

While the rigid structure of the show will turn off certain viewers, ones with a dark sense of curiosity will enjoy these tales of vengeance and the enigmatic origins of the one known as Hell Girl.

Buyers Guide:
Available in a 4 disc dvd box set

3 "Care to give death a try?" out of 5

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Jonathan Creek: The Clue of the Savant's Thumb (2013)

I adore Jonathan Creek but circumstances caused me to miss a lot of the later episodes and the Christmas specials, so I've no idea how he met Joey Ross* (Sheridan Smith), but I'm glad he did. I like Sheridan, and she doesn't disappoint in the role. Her chemistry with Alan Davies is good, and her eagerness is only equalled by her sassiness.

Jonathan's life has changed. He's retired from the crime solving business but seems ill at ease in his new role, and awkward in his new clothes. I accepted the changes without much affront, but one thing bugged me: where the hell is the windmill? I'd never move out of a windmill, not for anyone!

When a dead body turns up and mysteriously disappears from a locked room on the same day, Jonathan's curiosity is piqued. How could he resist? The story and its sub-plots keep you guessing, with minor reveals being well-paced throughout. There's even a McGuffin that put a dirty big spanner in my deductions.

A handful of guest stars gave me the jollies: Rik Mayall, Nigel Planer, and Joanna Lumley (who proves that she can still do drama better than most other 'comedy' actresses, she was superb).

The Beeb have said that viewing figures were higher than expected and consequently a new series has been planned for 2014. It's only going to have 3 episodes, but it's better than nothing. I'm already excited!

Running Time: 89 minutes.

4 actual thumbs out of 5

*I've since caught up on missed episodes, so that's no longer true. See Jonathan Creek: The Grinning Man (2009).

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Stephen King's Rose Red (2002)

There's something about Rose Red that I really like. It's a Stephen King miniseries that doesn't suck. Perhaps the reason is it wasn't adapted from a book; it was written by the author specifically for the screen and then revised over time to fit the extended format.

It's a traditional haunted house story built around a rich and intriguing history inspired by real life events, or at the very least real life fiction. It creates, and for a long time sustains, a suitably uneasy atmosphere that keeps the viewer attentive even during the lengthy exposition scenes. It's only in the last half of the third part that it begins to fall back on the cheap-shot, shock scares that any fool with a camera can do.

There's a large cast of characters, but King is experienced enough to give each of them their own space in the narrative. Two thirds have some kind of psychic ability, and while one or two do feel like they were included simply to offer commentary from a different perspective, he gives each one a unique personality and uses them to reinforce the story at opportune moments throughout. If they've nothing constructive (or confrontational) to add to a scene, they're pushed into the background so they don't intrude.

The house itself is also a character. The anachronistic hybrid of classic and experimental architecture sets it apart from the surrounding environment; it's as if the world outside decided it didn't want Rose Red any more, so it turned its back on her. But she didn't go away. She endured. She festered. She got hungry.

King started revisions on the script, originally intended to be a movie, shortly after his near-death accident. It was around that time that he began to more forcibly try to connect all his fictional works into one cohesive whole, meaning fans of his writing will see similarities and subtle references to earlier works.

3 episodes, approx 80 minutes each.

A prequel TV Movie called The Diary of Ellen Rimbauer was made in 2003 but it wasn't written by King. You can read about it HERE.

3½ dormant cells out of 5