Posts filed under TV Reviews

Jack Ryan Analysis

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It seems like just yesterday John Krasinski was selling paper and falling in love with the secretary at Dunder-Mifflin. Now he’s Jack Ryan and he can’t seem to keep his shirt on for some reason. I finished watching Amazon Prime’s Jack Ryan series last week. I was supposed to immediately follow that up with a review for Reservoir Geeks, but I couldn’t. After watching the new series I felt the need to go back and look in to all the movies that came before it. I’ve always been a fan of the character and I’ve even tried to force myself to read some of Tom Clancy’s dictionary-sized novels. I did not think that I could correctly honor the character of Jack Ryan-CIA Analyst without providing some analysis about the rest of his incarnations.

I started my trip down memory lane by watching the Harrison Ford led Jack Ryan films: Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and of course Air Force One (I’ll fight you if you say that’s not just an unauthorized “Jack Ryan is the president” movie). To this point I believe Ford’s portrayal of Ryan most closely resembles the character in the book. He’s a humble but confident and capable analyst who is tack sharp and regretfully gets sent out into the field. Unfortunately, the stories in both Ford’s films are nothing to rave about. In fact, I just watched both films this weekend and I couldn’t tell you the difference between the two. They are both decent films, but nothing special.

Next I tried to watch The Sum of All Fears. The keyword here is tried. I don’t think that this is a particularly bad film but it’s not particularly good either. There are Nazi’s and Russians, Ben Affleck tries his hardest, Morgan Freeman is there, and so is James Cromwell. I really can’t say much, I kept drifting off while trying to finish it and I eventually gave up. I think this was most of America’s reaction to Ben Affleck’s swing at Ryan. Maybe Ben just isn’t good at portraying “franchise” characters. He always does well when he plays an original character that he can mold but give him a character that’s already developed and he’s just a bucket of yuck. (i.e. Batman, Jack Ryan, Daredevil)

Did you know Kenneth Branagh tried to reboot the Jack Ryan series in 2014 with Chris Pine as the lead? I did, I think…. but I also didn’t….did I?. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit was one of those films that looks like it could have been a big blockbuster with Kevin Costner, Chris Pine, and Keira Knightley. However, Shadow Recruit was given ho-hum reviews by film critics and fans alike. Fans of the books said Branagh tried to make the Jack Ryan character into too much of an action star. They may have a point, the poster is Chris Pine walking away from an explosion with a gun in his hand. I don’t know if that screams analyst.

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I saved what I knew to be the best film, for last. The Hunt for Red October is both the first Jack Ryan book and his first film. If you can manage to suspend disbelief for 2 hours while listening to a supposed Russian submarine Captain with a thick Scottish accent (it’s ok because it’s Sean Connery and he’s awesome) then this is THE Jack Ryan film to watch. The story is exciting, filled with twists and action. Some of my favorite character actors Sam Neill and Tim Curry have absolutely pivotal roles. Sean Connery plays a Russian Captain with map of the sea in his broken heart. He just wants to leave the memories of his dead wife behind him so he defects to the U.S. There’s good character development and subtle backstory for almost every character that needs it. This is also a master class of pacing, it does not feel like a 2hr 15min movie. There’s only one real problem I have with this film and I feel like I might need to ask for forgiveness for this one. I can’t stand Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan. I don’t remember feeling this way the first time I watched the movie way back when but I really find him to be just the most obnoxious person in the room at all times. He seems smarmy. At one point I couldn’t help but roll my eyes when he’s crawling through the submarine talking to himself like he’s John McClane , which makes sense being that Die Hard and Hunt shared the same director. But Alec Baldwin is not Bruce Willis and Jack Ryan is not John McClane. Alas, if that’s the worst thing about this film then it’s really not all that bad though, is it?

With all that out of the way now I feel as if I can give you my opinion of this new Amazon Prime series Jack Ryan. Unfortunately, my aversion to posters showing CIA analysts walking about from explosions with a gun in their hand is triggered right off the bat with this version, but it doesn’t matter.

It’s good.

I mean it, it’s not just good compared to the other versions. It’s just good, it might even be great. The story is exciting, all the cast seem to be made for their parts. John Krasinski is surprisingly (to me, at least) perfect as the titular character. He’s smart, confident but not cocky, and definitely burdened with the cost of not making the right decisions. The is the perfect Jack Ryan. The character adapts to television like it was meant to be there from the beginning. Giving Ryan hours to develop his theories and plot his plan to fight the enemy is the perfect way to accurately portray his character. The first series is built on gradual moments of clarity for Ryan in which you can watch him take in all the information that is happening and then think (or talk) through the situation to get the solution to the problems that lay in front of him. Maybe the best example of this is (Spoilers! But not really Spoilers! I’ll say Spoilers over when I’m done) his time spent interrogating a couple of men in an American Military camp. While one prisoner is literally being tortured Ryan decided to share a meal with the other to get information from him. (Spoilers over! sorry?). Amazon’s analysts told them to renew this show for a second season before the show had even streamed the first season and they were right. I give Hunt for Red October a pass on the Scottish Russian captain because the story was great and Sean F’n Connery. I also give Jack Ryan a pass on the gun-toting, explosion-walking CIA analyst poster because of a great story and John F’n Krasinski.

Watch it.

Make & Bake

One of the only genres of reality TV that I can get behind is the creative competition show. You know… Project Runway, Forged in Fire, RuPaul’s Drag Race, etc. While I try to tune out any drama that may arise (it is reality TV, after all), I’m so in awe of watching talented individuals create something, anything, under time, budget, or competitive constraints. Heck, throw away all the constraints and I'd just watch creative process videos for days.

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One of my favorite shows in this genre is The Great British Baking Show and a new (slightly different) season just dropped on Netflix. I also just finished checking out NBC’s new Making It, which feels like a distant, crafty relative of all the British bakers I love, so I thought I’d give a rundown of each show. Not that it’s a competition.

Hosts

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GBBS: This season, both Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins, who have hosted the series from the beginning, were replaced. Bummer. But not a total bummer because the new hosts are the wonderfully wacky Noel Fielding and the surprisingly emotional Sandi Toksvig. Their silliness is kept to a demure and distinctly British level and they really feel like a support system and friendly face for the contestants.

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Making It: Aside from being crafty, the main reason I wanted to watch Making It was for the hosts. Amy Poehler and Nick Offerman walk the contestants through each week’s challenges and it’s obvious the two are good friends in real life. In this situation, Nick is the arts & crafts aficionado and Amy is the not-creatively-inclined-but-arts-appreciative sidekick. I was a little off-put by how over-the-top the side segments were, though. There was no subtlety to their gags and puns and it felt like it was taking time away from the main focus of the show.

Judges

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GBBS: The newest season of The Great British Baking Show sees Paul Hollywood back, but not veteran Mary Berry. I was a bit worried about the new hosting dynamics, but I actually really enjoyed Berry's colorful replacement, Prue Leith. Both Hollywood and Leith gave honest and humble praise when earned and constructive and helpful criticism when necessary. With the exception of the technical challenges, the judges roam the room, observe the contestants, and ask insightful questions to make the most informed decisions in the final judging. And more than any other season, I believe, contestants emotionally accept the coveted Paul Hollywood Handshake.

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aking It: The judges for Making It are Dayna Isom Johnson and Simon Doonan. Both have legitimate crafting cred: Johnson is Etsy’s Trend Expert and Doonan is a Barneys NY Creative Ambassador. Unlike GBBS, the judges for Making It appear only after the first challenge and then interact with the contestants for the second challenge before revealing the winner for the week. Like GBBS, they offered thoughtful criticisms and praise, but the interactions felt a bit bland. I didn’t ever really feel like they were totally wowed, except maybe on the last episode.

Facilities

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GBBS: All the baking goes down in a tent on the grounds of an English estate. While picturesque, the outside weather often affects the outcomes of the bakes: chocolate melts, custard oozes, and bakers drip.

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Making It: Contestants craft in a chic, modern barn in the woods. While most stayed inside to complete their challenges, a few contestants popped outside to work in a bigger space or make use of the power tools.

Challenges

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GBBS: The Great British Baking Show consists of three challenges: a signature bake, a technical challenge, and a show-stopper. Contestants are able to plan and practice for the signature bakes and show-stoppers, but the technical challenge is like a pop quiz on a subject of which you have no knowledge. It’s intense.

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Making It: Making It features two challenges: a faster craft and a master craft. The faster craft is done in just a few short hours and the master craft in, what seems like, a day. While GBBS contestants must rely solely on their own knowledge and skills, there are assistants helping the makers construct and assemble their master craft projects.

Prizes

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GBBS: Each episode, a Star Baker is chosen and, in the end, the winner is given a crystal cake stand trophy. And maybe some flowers.

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Making It: Each of the two challenges per episode has a winner, who receives a patch. In the end, $100,000 is awarded to the winning Master Crafter, though the hosts are quick to emphasize that it’s not about the money… it’s about a job done well.

They’re pretty similar, right? In structure, anyway. Amy even references the GBBS at one point in Making It. I had high hopes for Making It as a craft enthusiast myself, but, if it wasn’t obvious, my love runs deep for the British. To me, the camaraderie and relationships among the bakers is, no pun intended, more sweet than that of the makers. The series also really showcases the nuances of baking and it bothered me how little Making It actually showed of, well, making stuff. It felt very rushed and like so much more was being crafted behind-the-scenes. I was very pleased with the winner of Making It this season and would watch again if they come back with more, but I’d probably tune in after my GBBS fix.

Posted on September 9, 2018 and filed under TV Reviews.

Summer Binges

What do you watch when you get home from work? (I’m assuming here that most people plop, exhausted, on the couch after work every single night because that’s exactly what I do) I noticed this summer that my post-work TV viewing revolved around suspense dramas and murder, so I thought I’d rank the six shows I binged between June and August.

How To Get Away With Murder (streaming on Netflix): We’re obviously starting with the worst because, man, this show. It’s a few years old now, but I’d never seen it, so I watched the first season and half of the second and then I turned it off for good. A law professor literally teaches her students how to, well, you know - get away with murder. It was interesting at first, but then it became a huge tangled web of deceit with no resolution in sight. When one situation or threat was cleared, another (more implausible than the last) had already started brewing. It caused more stress than a day at work and I know murder shows aren’t all relaxation and mindlessness, but jeez. No thanks. And I couldn’t get past Alfred Enoch not being Dean Thomas from Harry Potter.  

Goliath (streaming on Amazon Prime): This show is ranked second lowest on my list, but that’s not to say it was bad; it just wasn’t as intriguing (to me) as the other shows I watched. Billy Bob Thornton plays a smart and once powerful attorney who now drinks more than he practices law. In the first season, he’s talked into taking on a wrongful death case against a large corporation who happens to be represented by his previous firm (that he helped build) and conspiracies are unveiled. I liked the plot of first season more than the second, where a young boy is framed for murder; howeverrrrr… the second season had some pretty surreal situations that I feel need mentioning. Mark Duplass plays an unscrupulous developer who has some pretty specific turn ons involving H.R. Pufnstuf and I’d be remiss if I didn’t say it was one of the most bizarre things I’d seen on TV for awhile. I just sat on my couch with an unbelieving and horrified look on my face - and doesn’t a reaction like that at least make for decent television?

The Tunnel (streaming on Amazon Prime and PBS Passport): My first (and not last) British show on the list. This is where my true love of crime procedural lies - across the pond. Or, in this case, across the Channel. The Tunnel is three seasons of the British working with the French to solve trans-Channel murder and crime. And yes, there are some subtitles. Like Goliath, the first season is the best and most plausible, but they’re all cleverly developed. I enjoyed the interaction between the two lead detectives -- Stephen Dillane (Stannis Baratheon from Game of Thrones) and Clémence Poésey -- as they learned to trust each other and work as a team. They’re short at six episodes per season and the third and final season aired this summer.

Marcella (streaming on Netflix): Another British murder drama, this time with an extremely flawed and complicated lead (wait, isn’t that every murder mystery?). The first season aired a few years ago and I loved it. Anna Friel (from Pushing Daisies) plays Marcella Backland, a headstrong detective and mother who goes in and out of often-violent blackout episodes stemming from an unrealized traumatic event in her past. The second season aired this year and she finally delves deep enough in her psyche to understand what she’s been trying to bury for the last several years. There are definitely some intense scenes and, honestly, some are very disturbing and dark - notably more so than in the first season. Is it weird that that’s exactly what I love in a suspense show? The crazy ending leaves an opening for further seasons, but on a completely different path. Definitely check it out.

Sharp Objects (streaming on HBO Go): Sharp Objects is based on the book of the same name by Gillian Flynn, of Gone Girl fame. Over the course of a year or so, in the sleepy Missouri town of Wind Gap, two girls have been found brutally murdered. A reporter from St. Louis returns to her hometown to cover the latest murder and is brought face-to-face with her haunted past. Family and town dynamics are explored at a slow, but satisfying pace. The show feels distinctly Southern Gothic and patience is key for the reward of a shocking twist at the end… don’t skip the credits. I usually read books before I watch the TV or movie adaptation, but I was so disgusted with How To Get Away With Murder, I jumped into Sharp Objects without reading first. I’ve heard the show is slightly different than the book, so I think I’ll pick that up soon.

Endeavour (streaming on Amazon Prime and PBS Passport): Alright. This is it. As much as I love crazy, dark, and twisted murders, there’s nothing better than a British cozy mystery and Endeavour very much satisfies that sub-genre. My favorite class in college was British Detective Fiction - we read a mystery each week and broke down the genre from its origins to present-day trends. Everything from Agatha Christie to Colin Dexter, who, as it happens is directly connected to Endeavour. Colin Dexter is known for Inspector Morse - a slightly-more-than-middle-aged man who solves crimes across the city of Oxford, England. He debuted in 1975 and appeared in more than 13 novels across more than two decades (there was also a British TV series based on the books than ran almost as long). Endeavour imagines Morse as he would have been in the 1960s before he moved through the ranks of the British constabulary system. It’s just delightful and well-made. Each episode is approximately 90 minutes, so there’s plenty to sink into if you’re looking for a long-term relationship with a fictional character.

Posted on September 2, 2018 and filed under TV Reviews.

Killing Eve REVIEW

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**SMALL SPOILERS AHEAD**

I’ve been hearing a buzz about Killing Eve, a BBC America show, so I dropped the latest season of Arrested Development (sorry, I’ll get back to you) and queued up all eight episodes for a two-day binge.

Sandra Oh starts as the titular Eve Polastri, a dowdy MI5 security agent who has more ambition and intelligence than her current role calls for; fortunately, she’s quickly sacked and given an opportunity to run a covert MI6 operation tracking and identifying a new female assassin who’s been making quite a name for herself internationally. But what is that name and who does she work for?

Her name is Villanelle (codename, of course) and she’s a young, Russian psychopath living and partying in Paris. Portrayed by Jodie Comer, she is, all at once, humorous, rude, manipulative, cold, brazen, childish, and lovely. She has a complicated father-daughter-type relationship with her handler, Konstantin, from whom she learns of Eve’s special (and apparently not-so-secret - do you smell a mole?) operation and soon develops an infatuation with the frumpy agent who is just her type, sexually speaking.

And speaking of ladies who know what they want, all the major leads in Killing Eve are women. In addition to Oh and Comer, we have Fiona Shaw, a veteran Irish actress who played Mrs. Dursley in the Harry Potter film franchise. Shaw plays Carolyn Martens, a living legend in MI6 and Oh’s new boss. All these women are determined, intelligent, self-possessed, and the definition of badass… but can they be trusted? It’s no wonder strong women are the central focus of this show - Killing Eve was created (well, adapted from the novels by Luke Jennings) by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, an immensely talented writer and actress whose off-kilter appeal has been a magnet for success of late.

Aside: As a Britcom lover, I was also pleasantly surprised to see several appearances from British character actors, including David Haig and Darren Boyd - not women, but actors I love nonetheless.  

Killing Eve is a spy show in that there are secret agencies, covert operations, and intelligence gathering, but it’s not always as intense as traditional spy shows tend to be. Yes, there’s double-crossing, questioning of loyalties, and wondering who really works for whom, but it’s very light-hearted at times, playful and witty, even, with a fantastic soundtrack of 1960s French pop (think Françoise Hardy and Brigitte Bardot). What makes these madcap moments even better is that they are always followed by a sharp, emotional gut-punch, quickly bringing the viewer right back into the dark world of espionage and assassination.

Also unlike a traditional espionage drama, the cat-and-mouse game is a little different. The mouse wants to be caught by the cat -- and Eve and Villanelle are both each others’ mouse, if that makes any sense. Each is infatuated with the other and the two meet face-to-face much earlier than is normal in a classic spy chase. Traditional genre cliches are thrown out the window and this lays the groundwork for the rest of the season (and indeed the next season) - When will they meet again? Will one kill the other? Do they love each other? Who does Villanelle work for? And will Eve ever wear any of those fancy French garments?

The first season of Killing Eve is set to premiere on Hulu in Fall 2018, but you can stream it via AMC until June 25th.

Posted on June 19, 2018 and filed under TV Reviews.

5 Reboot Worthy Television Shows

The Roseanne reboot came and went much like a candle in the wind. It burned so bright for a short period only to be put out by waft of hot air blown from the mouth of an Ambien altered racist(that's a thing now, right?). The initial success of the Roseanne Reboot and the announcement of a Murphy Brown reboot has us thinking. What shows from yesteryear would you give the 'boot? Here are my 5 dangerously nostalgic but worthy choices for reboot. Get it done Hollywood!

Posted on June 5, 2018 and filed under TV Reviews.

5 Shows You Should Be Streaming Right Now

We live in a diamond-encrusted golden age of Television right now. There are an abundance of quality choices when it comes how you spend 8+ hours staring at a screen. You probably already have a dozen or so shows that your friends say you need to watch. Well, let me make that Watchlist even longer and more intimidating. Here are 5 shows you should be streaming right now.  To make this list each show must meet two very simple criteria: is it good? yes. does it get talked about very often? no. Congratulations! you just made the list. The shows are in no particular order. 

Catastrophe is the story of an American business man that gets and Irish woman pregnant while on a business trip. The show is unique because it is written by it's two lead actors; Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney (everyone's favorite character from the new Deadpool film). The series is filled with big laughs but also poignant and heart-wrenching moments of introspective brilliance as you watch the couple struggle through decisions about their relationship and the future of their child. Catastrophe also has the distinct honor of being one of the late-great Carrie Fisher's final performances. There are 4 seasons and 24 episodes waiting for you on Amazon Prime. 

Fleabag is the story about a young woman living in London and trying to cope with a recent tragedy all while being kind of a trainwreck. This series stars the suddenly everywhere all of the time Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge has recently become a critical acclaim magnet for her writing on the BBC series Killing Eve and her work on the new Star Wars Story Solo. Before her time in space she wrote and starred in both Fleabag and Crashing, two of my favorite shows from 2016. There are 8 episodes spanning 2 seasons waiting for you on Amazon Prime. You can also check out the one season of Crashing on Netflix, you won't be disappointed by that either. 

Ripper Street is much different from the first two picks. This is the story of Detective Inspector Edmund Reid and his team policing the streets of Whitechapel while they are terrorized by Jack the Ripper and other baddies. This series stars Matthew Macfayden who you may know from MI-5 or Russel Crowe's Robin Hood movie and Jerome Flynn, Bronn from Game of Thrones. Ripper Street is just a fun detective show that grabs you as soon as you see the first Ripper victim. The story isn't just about Jack the Ripper though Edmund Reid's team investigates a new strange murder every episode. The characters are well written and the mysteries are exciting. It's not quite Sherlock but it will help fill that void until you Cumberbatch and Freeman make their way back to Baker Street. There are 36 episodes in 5 seasons on both Amazon Prime and Netflix

Sneaky Pete is special. The show was created by Bryan Cranston (he also guest stars) and David Shore. Giovanni Ribisi plays a talented con man that decides to take over his cell-mate Pete's life after he gets out of prison. It's been so long since the family has seen cousin Pete that they immediately take him in and welcome him back to the family bail bond business. The show is episode after episode of shit hitting different fans as Ribisi struggles to keep up with all his lies and keep track of his ever-growing list of enemies. So far there are 20 episodes in 2 seasons on Amazon Prime

Ugly Delicious is Chef's Table's little brother. It's less refined, less artistic, but probably more likely to make your mouth water. I love food shows even if they are just used as a background noise. David Chang travels the world eating good food that may not be pretty but it's definitely tasty. This is the newest show on the list by a long shot, it hit Netflix a few weeks ago very quietly. This should hold you over until Anthony Bourdain makes some new content for one of his 5 million shows. 1season with 8 episodes on Netflix streaming right now.

 

What would you put on the list? Tell us all about your favorite under the radar shows that are available to stream now.