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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

HANNIBAL: SEASON ONE [2013]

"Here we are:
a bunch of psychopaths
helping each other out.
"

When it was first announced that Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter character was being developed into a prequel television series all were very leery of it's presence.  It was even stranger when Bryan Fuller, creator of such quirky quality shows as Wonderfalls & Pushing Daisies, was to be the showrunner.  Or how could a series about a cannibal ever pull off what it needs to, in order to be successful in a primetime slot on network television?  To add to all that, it's widely considered that Sir Anthony Hopkins already exquisitely defined the character in it's own popular film franchise.
The series had everything running against it and much to everybody's surprise it's a wonderfully developed adaptation that's much more than anyone could have ever imagined.

We've already seen Dr. Lecter imprisoned on film, so Hannibal takes us back to the days leading up to his arrest, following most of the characters introduced in Harris' Red Dragon novel.  Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen is given the daunting task of filling the role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter and he re-imagines it with a subtle yet immensely creepy grace.  British actor, Hugh Dancy (who co-starred with Mikkelsen in 2004's King Arthur) plays FBI special investigator Will Graham with a truly complex and memorable sense of anguish, heart and frightening confusion.  Veteran actor Laurence Fishburne does a magnificent job at portraying Special Agent-in-Charge Jack Crawford while Fuller interestingly takes the male characters of Dr. Alan Bloom and tabloid journalist Freddy Lounds, then gives the roles to actresses Caroline Dhavernas & Lara Jean Chorostecki.  A recurring slew of genre guest stars round out the cast, including Gillian Anderson, Eddie Izzard, Scott Thompson, Anna Chlumsky, Kacey Rohl and Gina Torres.  They all play psychologically disturbed people, good & bad, who are all drawn to each other for one reason or another and it's quite interesting to see the dynamics at play.  

Great acting and characters aside, the series is also blessed with some tightly wound storytelling that is both horrific and beautiful.  The dizzying conversations between the characters gives one a lot to think about, which we quite often find ourselves uncomfortably exploring long after the episode is over.  At first it appears the series wants to focus on the crazy killer of the week but as the story progresses we slowly learn that each case has it's dangerous repercussions on the trembling psyche of it's characters and it all meets up for a jaw-dropping finale.

Aesthetically the series is top-rate.  In fact, I'd go so far as to call it Pushing Daisies' evil twin, with it's strong focus on set design, color and ever-present music.  They might be working on a very low budget but you would never guess it as it really is one of the most gorgeous looking shows on the air at this time.  

The violence and gore is another thing.  I really have no idea how they get away with the things that they do here.  It really is stomach-turning, so much that Fuller himself actually pulled an episode from airing because he felt he went just a little too far.  As horrific as some of things are that we see on screen, Hannibal is at it's most terrifying as a psychological horror.  It wraps it's icy hands around your neck and suffocates you, leaving you haunted for the days to come.  Obviously, it's not a show for everyone due to it's extreme subject matter but should you partake in it's all it's bloody hypnotizing glory, you'll find this is televised fine dining at some of it's best.  

4 pendulums out of 5

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Transporter: The Series: Season 2 (2014)

Much changed between Season One and Two and not all of it’s good change. Frank’s attitude toward his job is the same—he’s still a practical, matter-of-fact guy with a plan that tends to go tits-up before the halfway point—but now he’s more like James Bond in how he goes about things. I suspect that behind the scenes someone actually said ‘Let’s make him more James Bond,’ and they did, unfortunately. The B-Movie charm that existed previously is compromised, replaced by a TV production with aspirations of being a secret agent movie.

There are personnel changes, too. Carla Valeri (Andrea Osvárt), the woman that functioned as a mysterious liaison between the transporter and the often shady customer, is replaced by the foxy Catarina Boldieu (Violante Placido).

Catarina does a similar job but she’s more active. Her multilingual skills are an asset to Frank, so he occasionally has a need for her to accompany him on jobs. Her role is well-defined and not shoehorned in if there's no need for her presence in the field. The chemistry between the pair is more interesting than it was with her predecessor. Of the changes made, she's the most successful.

As before, Inspector Tarconi (François Berléand) cameos from time to time.

There's a more global focus to the stories. Frank hops borders frequently, travelling to places like Libya and Belarus, coming into contact with regional gunmen all trained at The A-Team school of villainy and marksmanship.

Somehow, people do actually get killed and because we're now in dark, thuggish, modern Bond mode there's not always a happy ending.

It’s mostly stand-alone episodes, but the beginnings of an ongoing arc creeps in and a nemesis for Frank is highlighted. It feels a little forced but also shows a confidence in the material and a willingness to make things even more personal in the next season, if it isn't cancelled before then.

12 episodes, approx 45 minutes each.

3 variables accounted for out of 5

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (2009-10)


Shinkenger wasn’t just my first Sentai series, it was my first exposure to tokusatsu in its purest form, period. It taught me everything I believe the franchise should be about. It taught me about myself, and that I should never have to compromise when it comes to either of those things.

This is ironic, in its way, because the creative team handed Kobayashi Yasuko an outline, power-set, and toy-line that focused intensely on the show’s Red Senshi. Shiba Takeru is a modern-day samurai lord and was meant to be literally kneeled to by his retainers. It happens, but not because they feel obligated or because he himself demands it. He never does. Halfway through the show, the power-up which was clearly intended to be Red-only and allows command of every single mecha to its user is NOT used to turn Shinkenger into a one man show. Instead, Takeru uses it to turn the power structure on its head. He, of his own accord, puts his life into the hands of the ones who put theirs into his. Ryuunosuke, Mako, Chiaki, and Kotoha are not assistants or side-kicks, they are not inferiors. 

Through Takeru, Kobayashi molds Shinkenger into the truest definition of sentai I could ever fathom. Goseiger is more egalitarian, but Shinkenger shines ever the more because it itself had to overcome the circumstances of its creation and everything that assailed it through its development. It’s a microcosm of the spirit of toku and the impact it can have on its fans, the change they can bring about in themselves, for the better.

There has only ever been one point of contention I’ve had with the series. A singular act herein could be viewed as the result of sexism, but I believe that it can only be interpreted as such if someone is simply aware of it in a complete and utter vacuum. Knowing the characters involved, and having witnessed everything that is said and SHOWN, I grew to see it in an appropriate light. Further, without spoiling, I will simply assert that Shinkenger is actually astoundingly progressive in this arena and that a plot point and character that could have been executed in a gimmicky manner were instead handled with remarkable grace and respect, both in the series proper and in subsequent movies.

In fact, it is Shinkenger’s three ladies and Sixth, Umemori Genta, who most exemplify the series’ far-reaching philosophy that traditions alone cannot assure victory. They must often be challenged and always supplemented with new practices, convictions, and technology. Sometimes they must be outright broken.

Thank you for teaching me so much. Thank you for changing my life. Please continue to, always.

49 episodes, approx. 25 minutes each.
Their supplemental materials are covered below the cut.

5 (No, 7!) Earnest Feelings Combined out of 5

TWIN PEAKS : SEASON ONE [1990]

"I'll see you in my dreams."
"Not if I see you first."


“Who killed Laura Palmer?” became one the most asked questions in the land of water cooler conversations for a very brief time in the early 1990's.  Created by Hill Street Blues' head-writer Mark Frost and film-director David Lynch, Twin Peaks' legacy grew into a pop culture phenomenon that would go on to influence many other hit cult-TV shows for several decades to follow. 

In simple, it's about a small Pacific Northwest town that is turned upside down when the homecoming queen, Laura Palmer, is found dead, wrapped in plastic.  Enter FBI Agent Dale Cooper who whisks in and innocently begins unravelling not only the mysterious murder but several of the community's seedy little secrets. 

Half quirky satirical soap-opera and half dark twisted mystery, Twin Peaks came at just the right time when television was becoming overly boring and predictable amongst it's hordes of stand-alone episodes. 
Right off the bat, the series proves itself to be a very unique addition to the primetime line-up with it's gloomy cinematic feature-length pilot episode.  Filmed near Seattle, Washington, Lynch made the best of the grey rainy skylines, the wind dancing through the haunted dense forests and the ever-present foghorn in the distance.  The moody atmosphere is instantly hypnotizing but lures the audience even further down the rabbit hole with it's humorously bizarre dialogue, oddball character quirks and now-iconic music that switches between cool-cat jazz to melodramatic soap opera themes with great ease.

Sadly, after the pilot episode, the series opted to film in California and, like The X-files after it, it loses quite a bit of it's mood amid it's bright and sunny woodlands, which look nothing like the Pacific Northwest.  Thankfully the quality of the writing upholds, with the exception of some red-herring storylines that seem like a lot of the characters were created to add to the strangeness of the town but could never find anything worthwhile beyond that.  Hints of the supernatural begin emerging, especially with the introduction of the unforgettable Red Room and the backwards talking dancing dwarf, which completely separated Twin Peaks from anything that had ever been seen on American network ever before.   

In just 2 months of airing the entirety of it's first season, Twin Peaks was that show everyone was talking about and most couldn't wait to what was next after it's cliff-hanging season finale.  The question was, could it keeps it's perfect balance of unpredictable weirdness and high quality writing?

4½ Douglas Fir Trees out of 5

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Kamen Rider Agito (2001-02)


While Agito and its preceding series, Kamen Rider Kuuga, are the literal beginnings of Heisei Rider, they exist to me in their own unique pocket of time between Showa and Heisei in terms of aesthetics, ideals, and execution. Agito is more or less a direct sequel to Kuuga, as it carries forth and develops ideas set in place there and has several thematic similarities. One does not have to have seen Kuuga, however, to enjoy or understand Agito. Simply know that when they refer to Unidentified Life Form No. 4, they’re talking about Kuuga himself.

One similarity between the programs informs Agito’s structure: In Kuuga, a great deal of emphasis was placed on the members of the police force that worked alongside its sole, titular Rider. That carries over, with one of their number actually becoming a Rider, here. The narrative focuses on three heroes, each being one of the three basic categories of Rider. Agito is powered by a mystic force that’s little understood, even by himself. Gills is an organic Rider, whose body mutates when he is roused to battle. The G3 system is a man-made mechanical suit of armor developed by an engineering genius working with the police.

This diversity is key to the series as it centers around a mystery, at the heart of which is the interplay between regular humans, those capable of evolving into something more, and the forces that wish to protect both. I can say very little beyond that as the details are slowly and masterfully unwound over the course of its astounding 51 episodes, movie, and special.

Near the end, there is a sharp shift in the behavior of one faction and while some have complained about this, it is naturally set up through dialogue a decent number of episodes before it occurs. Further, it is a staggeringly logical move given the nature of our species and is something that needed to be addressed to complete the picture being painted.

The themes touched upon are quite universal and are designed to make the viewer question their own prejudices and actions. However, it is made clear that lofty, macrocosmic thinking and behaviors are informed by the choices we make on a personal level. The value of power is dictated by what we use it for. How we choose to live our lives—what we temper that power with—decides its flavor.

4½ Cabbage Cakes Made with Unwavering Love out of 5

Nutted by NEG