Westworld (the TV series) — a review

If you didn't want to sing some songs around the fire, you could have just said so....

If you didn’t want to sing some songs around the fire, you could have just said so….

Back when I wrote the review for Michael Crichton’s film Westworld, I mentioned that plans were in the works to turn it into a TV series on HBO. The first episode of this new series has premiered, and it’s produced by JJ Abrams and Jonathan Nolan, the brother of Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception). The main storyline of Westworld is similar to that of Jurassic Park, where a high tech theme park suffers a catastrophic break down that puts its visitors in serious danger (the late Michael Crichton, who wrote and directed Westworld, also wrote the novel that the Jurassic Park film was based on), and I was extremely curious to see how Jonathan Nolan (who co-wrote and directed the first episode) was going to adapt this story into a series.

After watching the first episode, all I can say is: so far, so good. It’s the same basic storyline, where a western town filled with human-looking robots serves as a resort for human visitors, In Westworld, the visitors–or Newcomers, as they are known in town–can do whatever they want, right up to murder, all within the safety of the resort. But the team running the theme park starts noticing some weird behavior on the part of some of the androids, and when it’s determined that this behavior is the result of an update that ten percent of the android population had received, it’s decided that these androids need to be dealt with.

What did I tell you about doing that creepy thing with the horse? Just quit it!

What did I tell you about doing that creepy thing with the horse? Just quit it!

How the park employees deal with the mass removal of some two hundred androids from the park, without disrupting the fun for their guests, is ingenious: they simply have an outlaw gang come in and wipe out only the “infected” androids. But another ingenious scene afterwards, showing the simple act of someone swatting a fly, reveals that there’s still a problem. This version of Westworld has some forty years of advanced technology behind it, and the way the tech is handled is very smart. Unlike the original Westworld, which also had Roman and Medieval theme parks, there only seems to be the old west park in the new series (at least from what I saw in the first episode).

The cast is as exceptional as the writing: Anthony Hopkins plays the creator and owner of the theme park, with the always good Jeffery Wright starring as the chief programmer. Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden and Thandie Newton are also all superb. And Ed Harris is exceptional as a character known only as The Man In Black. He’s a visitor to the theme park who needs to be watched carefully, because it’s made clear that he’s not there strictly for fun. I’m still not sure how this will play out. Will we see this Westworld collapse into chaos like the original did? Who knows? But it looks like it will be a fascinating ride finding that out. –SF

Stranger Things — a review

Lookit the lights...so pretty....

Lookit the lights…so pretty….

Netflix really broadsided me this time. When they premiered Stranger Things, an eight episode series about a bunch of kids fighting an unknown evil in 1983, it sounded like a hodge-podge of Stephen King’s It, and Super-8, the coming of age monster movie directed by JJ Abrams that came out a few years back, along with a good dose of Steven Spielberg (the early years) thrown in. I have to admit to being suspicious of films and TV shows that reek of nostalgia, because they usually depend too much on the nostalgia of a particular time to charm their viewers, instead of offering a decent story.

But that’s not the case with Stranger Things, oh no. I immediately wound up getting pulled into its gripping tale right from the get-go. After spending the day playing Dungeons & Dragons with his friends, young Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) seemingly vanishes from the face of the earth, never returning home that night. His older brother Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and single mother Joyce (Winona Ryder, who’s fantastic here) are beside themselves as they try to track down where Will was last seen. When all else fails, Joyce goes to the local police, led by Jim Hopper (the superb David Harbour).

I'm getting Pluto on this thing--not the planet, Mickey's dog!

I’m getting Pluto on this thing–not the planet, Mickey’s dog!

Right off the bat, we’re shown that Will’s abduction has an otherworldly explanation, but while this is revealed right away, the actual cause–the who and what and why–is only slowly revealed over the course of the eight episodes. The Duffer Brothers (Wayward Pines), the creators and executive producers behind the series, have ingeniously created that rare TV show where you are truly caught up in the story because you feel sympathetic for the well-fleshed out characters, while also getting hooked on the mystery. And perhaps the biggest mystery here is who is the strange little girl with the shaven hair whose name is Eleven (played by young Millie Bobby Brown in a great and affecting performance).

The 1980s is used as a setting for the strong story, and there are many influences from that decade here, such as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Spielberg’s E.T., as well as the aforementioned Stephen King. But the series manages to juggle all of these science fiction and horror elements without getting overwhelmed by them–mainly by telling its own story in a supremely satisfying way. And it delivers a wonderful message, one that needs to be heard even now in the twenty first century: we can achieve the impossible only if we all pull together and face our fears. You see what I mean about being broadsided? Here I was expecting a cheesy little horror show, and instead I got a truly wondrous, heartfelt adventure that made me want to re-watch it the moment it was over. Good show, Duffer Brothers, and bring on season two. –SF

Marcella — a review

Where's a time machine when you can really use one?

Where’s a time machine when you can really use one?

I first took notice of Anna Friel in director Richard Donner’s Timeline, based on the late Michael Crichton’s novel of the same name about a group of archeologists who travel back in time six hundred years. It was a fun flick; I enjoyed it, and Friel was good as a French woman from the past whom one of the archeologists falls in love with. I’m pleased to see that she’s still working, having appeared in the lead role in the British detective series Marcella. Marcella is a woman who finds herself being dumped by her husband, who tried to break the news with a nice dinner. But Marcella, understandably upset, winds up trashing his car.

Marcella is diverted from grieving for the abrupt end to her marriage by the police, who come to consult with her for a serial killer case that has seemingly been revived after being dormant for eleven years. It turns out that Marcella is a former detective who worked the original case ten years ago, and after consulting for her former colleges, she feels a strong desire to return to work. Fortunately for Marcella, her former partner is now in charge, and is more than happy to have her back.

Just when this starts sounding like one of these sappy detective shows, with a perky cop solving crimes while juggling her disastrous personal life (like the really sucky Mysteries Of Lara), Marcella thankfully takes a very dark turn when it shows that its lead character has a nasty habit of losing time whenever she faces a great deal of stress. She’ll wake up, on one occasion completely bloodied and bruised, with no idea of where she’s been or how she got to where she is. At one point, thanks to her affliction, it looks as though Marcella might even be the prime suspect in a murder.

Through superb writing (the writers manage to expertly dovetail Marcella’s home life problems into the main story and make it all work), as well as Friel’s marvelous performance throughout, we still care for this woman as she frantically tries to not only solve the serial killer case, but also tries to sort out whether she murdered someone while in a fugue state without her colleges catching on. With the first season being only eight episodes (and available on Netflix), Marcella is the perfect crime series to binge watch on a weekend, with its enthralling story line and sympathetic heroine pulling you right along to the end. Highly recommended. Don’t miss it. –SF

Supergirl — a review of the pilot

Up, up and away....

Up, up and away….

Supergirl is back! Melissa Benoist stars as Kara Danvers/Supergirl who comes to Earth as the protector of little baby Kal-El (who would grow up to be Superman). The pilot explains that Kara was actually older than the baby; she’s about twelve when she’s launched into space in a single occupant rocket right after Kal-El. Why couldn’t they just sent them both to Earth in a single ship? Well that’s because the plot requires Kara’s ship to get lost in the Phantom Zone, first. This allows baby Kal-El to arrive at Earth and grow up to become Superman (we never actually see Supes, mind you; this is strictly Supergirl’s show).

When Kara finally arrives, having been mysteriously freed from the Phantom Zone (the how and why she escaped is a story thread that will probably be picked up later in the season) she’s now younger than Superman, who sends her to live with the nice Danvers family (in a great bit of casting, they’re played by Helen Slater, who played Supergirl in the 1984 film, and Dean Cain, the Man of Steel in Lois & Clark: the Adventures of Superman). When she grows up, Kara gets a crappy job working for super cranky Cat Grant (well-played to cheekily humorous effect by Calista Flockhart in another bit of inspired casting).

Listen, I'm married to the guy who plays Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so you can just consider me unimpressed.

Listen, I’m married to the guy who plays Han Solo and Indiana Jones, so you can just consider me unimpressed.

After suppressing her superpowers for all her life, Kara finally dives into action in an extraordinary sequence where she saves a stricken airliner that her sister happens to be on board. From this point on, the show only gains even more momentum as Kara decides to go all-in with the super-heroics, by enlisting her friend-blocked boy buddy Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan) for help with figuring out her costume. Supergirl is a blast of fresh air, a light and airy show with an enchanting lead actress whose winsome performance is so picture perfect that you starting rooting for her from the moment she shows up on screen.

This looks like a job for Supergirl!

This looks like a job for Supergirl!

Produced by the same team who gave us Arrow and The Flash on the CW, Supergirl thankfully eschews the dark and gritty tone that worked so well for the cinematic Batman, but not for other superheroes (such as the recent Man of Steel). At first Kara shies away from using her powers to help people, because her cousin Superman is already out there. But she steps up to the plate willingly, and is genuinely eager to help people however she can, and the world winds up being a better place for her efforts. No angst, no whiny drama, just plenty of high-soaring fun, and a wonderful series for little girls (as well as children of all ages) to enjoy. –SF

Zoo — a review

C'mon, Boo Boo, the ranger's coming...hey, wait, you're not Boo Boo! Where's Boo Boo?!

C’mon, Boo Boo, the ranger’s coming…hey, wait, you’re not Boo Boo! Where’s Boo Boo?!

Zoo is a “CBS Event Series” that’s taken from the novel by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge. When violent animal attacks begin happening all over the world (lions escape a zoo and kill people in Los Angeles as well as on a safari trip in Africa) Jackson Oz (James Wolk) decides to do some investigating on an international level. It turns out that his deceased father (Ken Olin) was a crackpot scientist who ranted and raved about the animal kingdom eventually rising up to bite the human race on their collective behinds. He made a series of babbling lectures on video, some of which can only be found at his abandoned research facility off the coast of Japan.

While this nascent investigation begins, more and more animal attacks occur, with wolves overrunning a prison and killing everybody inside (which was really a little hard to believe, but ok, whatever….) and birds dive-bombing people at a park (and no, Tipi Hendren was nowhere to be seen here). Jackson’s father rants in his videos about something called a ‘defiant pupil,’ but instead of a surly kid in class, this actually refers to an animal having one eye where the pupil looks melted. This is a clear sign of an animal–lion, house cat, bird–that’s been turned. Eventually Jackson joins forces with a special team that’s been set up to look into stopping this animal apocalypse–as well as get chased by the bad guys. Because you know them frisky bad guys, they love messing shit up.

The animals took over this whole apartment complex...and gave it a great paint job! Wow!

The animals took over this whole apartment complex…and gave it a great paint job! Wow!

If you’re looking for one of these deep, angst-driven dramas, the Emmy bait show with the anti-hero who’s trying to figure out what went wrong with his life, then keep looking, because Zoo isn’t that series, not by a long shot. It’s a big gaudy adventure that’s more like a Irwin Allen disaster film meets Food Of The Gods (only the nasty critters here are normal sized). It’s a globe-trotting story with the team winding up in a new locale every week, and when they’re not dodging killer cats and rats, they’re dodging the henchmen of an evil corporation that may be behind the whole thing.

Who knew penguins knew how to tie such good knots?

Who knew penguins knew how to tie such good knots?

And while it’s enjoyable in a popcorn movie kind of way, just don’t think too hard about the twisty plot, which oftentimes veers off into the silliness territory of a Michael Bay film (only without the exploding stuff). Still, its goofiness is part of Zoo’s charm (the early episode with the killer house cats lying in wait for schoolchildren is good, corny fun), and I found myself hooked just waiting to see what latest outlandish situation the writers thought up for their hapless characters. In spite of its campiness played straight and elephant-sized plot holes, I still enjoyed this one. –SF

Fear The Walking Dead — a review of the first episode

Grrrr...wait, this isn't Georgia! Where did I wind up this time? Grrrrr.....

Grrrr…wait, this isn’t Georgia! Where did I wind up this time? Grrrrr…..

My father passed away a few years ago and one of the effects his death had on me was I stopped watching The Walking Dead. I haven’t seen the Rick and Daryl show since the beginning of the third season, and don’t really care to. I tried at one point to catch up with the series, but shut it off in disgust. It has nothing to do with the quality, or anything like that. You can probably understand that, under the circumstances, the very last thing any newly grieving person needs to see is a zombie show while they’re dealing with the body of their loved one at the funeral home.

While I can watch zombie movies and other horror stuff now with ease, I still have no desire to watch The Walking Dead again to this day. Maybe this will change in time, who knows? But when AMC announced they were bringing out Fear The Walking Dead (!!!), I was planning on ignoring this as well. But then they announced something else, that the star of Fear was going to be none other than Kim Dickens.

What's up? Zombies? Better them than Terminators; I hear those guys are really annoying!

What’s up? Zombies? Better them than Terminators; I hear those guys are really annoying!

Kim Dickens! Let me tell you about Kim. Among the many all-time great TV shows (Breaking Bad, the 2003 Battlestar Galactica) was a western on HBO called Deadwood. And one of the best things about that magnificent series (and there were many) was Dickens, who played Joanie Stubbs, a former hooker trying to make it on her own in the cutthroat (literally) town of Deadwood in 1876. Dickens has popped up here and there in recent years (LOST, Sons of Anarchy, House of Cards), and when I heard that one of my favorite actresses from one of my all-time favorite series was starring on the latest zombie gore-fest, well, I had to at least watch the first episode.

Fear The Walking Dead, which could do with a better title than that, is a prequel, starting just before the zombie onslaught. Remember when Rick was in the coma during the first episode of TWD? RTWD basically fills in the blanks of what happened during Rick’s coma time, showing the slow decline of our civilization as zombies begin to show up here and there. The first zombie is seen by Nick Clarke (Frank Dillane), a heroin addict who witnesses his undead girlfriend eating a corpse in an abandoned church that’s being used as a “shooting gallery” for their habits.

Yummy! More brains!

Yummy! More brains!

The problem is Nick was drug-addled when he saw this zombie (and right afterwards was hit by a car) so his mother, Madison, (Dickens) is understandably skeptical about his rantings over what he saw. The regular human world is still plugging along, despite one teenage boy’s paranoia over news items he’s seen online about a strange virus that has appeared in several states that appears to be unstoppable. I like how–despite the opening scene–the zombie menace takes its sweet time in a slow burn build up. Madison and her beau, Travis (the always good Cliff Curtis), get caught in traffic with emergency vehicles surrounding them. They have no idea what’s going on until a series of gunshots shatter the night, forcing Travis to frantically pull back onto the highway.

Zombie fans can see all of the signs, even while the main characters remain in the dark: the undead are slowly rising and attacking, and the authorities’ efforts to contain the situation is rapidly falling apart. We see everything happening only through the eyes of the Clarke family (at least in the first episode), and it’s a pretty effective way of conveying the drama, because real fear is created by the unknown. Things finally heat up when a video of a roadside arrest goes viral; the video shows cops beating and then shooting a man who simply won’t die in a dark twist on real life events.

Ermigerd, does the zombie apocalypse have to start right now?! Amber's party is, like tomorrow night!

Ermigerd, does the zombie apocalypse have to start right now?! Amber’s party is, like, tomorrow night!

Eventually, Madison and her extended clan have their own encounter with the undead, and by this time, I was hooked on this series. I wanted to see more. I still despise the Rick and Daryl show, and despite the knowledge that my hatred of TWD stems from my father’s death, in the end, who cares? My life isn’t made lesser by the absence of the first Walking Dead series anyway, and it looks like I’ve got a new zombie show to watch. Of course, if Fear gets to be just as stupid and soap opera-like as the Rick and Daryl show (especially if they start playing the inane musical chairs game of “who’s going to die this season?”) then I’m out of here.

If nothing else, my dad’s death taught me that life is too frigging short to put up with inane bullshit like a TV show. –SF

Olympus — a review

I can hear ya knocking but ya can't come in!

I can hear ya knocking but ya can’t come in!

I’ve always been fascinated by the ancients, or the classical civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and the Roman Empire. We laid much of our own civilization upon the foundation built up by these mighty societies, and yet they existed so long ago, and some of their customs seem so strange that they may have well lived on another planet. So when the perpetually misspelled SyFy Channel premiered Olympus, a saga of ancient Greek mythology, I was afraid…oh, so very afraid….

Taking place in 2015 BC (ah, I see what you did there!), with the Greek city-state of Athens under siege by the Minoan army, a young man (Tom York) whose very name is a curse (but everybody calls him Hero) survives a deadly encounter with a Cyclops, and in doing so, meets up with a woman named Oracle (Sonya Cassidy). Oracle discovers that Hero has the Lexicon within him, which is a source of great power that can lead to opening the doors of Olympus, the home of the gods, to mere mortals.

Um, there seems to be a mistake. I'm just here for the foot massage.....

Um, there seems to be a mistake. I’m just here for the foot massage…..

Right off the bat, this isn’t an accurate depiction of Ancient Greece. Hell, it isn’t even an accurate depiction of the Greek Myths. When Olympus begins, and going through about two-thirds of its season, it plays like a low-rent version of Game Of Thrones meets Xena, with the show runners trying their best (and failing) to be as sexy as they can under the censorship of an advertisement-supported network like Syfy (Game of Thrones is on HBO, which allows them to be as wild and racy as they want). Instead of depending on sex to sell their series, the Olympus people should fall back on solid scripts.

But the writing isn’t as strong as it should be, with several characters–namely the members of the royal court of Athens–coming off as being nothing more than cardboard stock figures whose sole purpose is to provide exposition and throw a few monkey wrenches into the proceedings. The cast try their best with the material they’re given, but it’s an uphill slog for them. Standouts in the cast include Sonya Cassidy as the soulful-eyed Oracle, Sophia Lauchlin Hirt as the naughty vixen daughter of the Minoan king, and Matt Frewer, Max Headroom himself, as Daedalus, the legendary inventor.

I seem to recall a lot of glitches. It was the 80s, what could you do?

I seem to recall a lot of glitches. It was the 80s, what could you do?

Another problem with the series is its dependence on CGI not just in the effects scenes with monsters and mayhem (and in which they’re well done), but also for sets, as well. There are too many badly done shots of actors wandering around what looks like a bad video game screen. Maybe it’s because of this that Olympus lacks the sense of gravitas that’s needed whenever you watch a truly monumental story that’s being told on an epic scale. The cast and crew try hard, and they are to be commended for at least doing something different (the last batch of episodes make a break with all convention and take a leap right into the Twilight Zone), but sadly, Olympus never really shakes that feeling of being an also-ran. –SF

Doctor Who: the Eight Season — a review

OK, I've got one of the Doctor Who writers tied to a tree there. See? Now just pull back....

OK, I’ve got one of the Doctor Who writers tied to a tree there. See? Now just pull back….

Well, I enjoyed the first episode of the eight season of Doctor Who, the season that introduces Peter Capaldi as the doc, and I really enjoyed the Christmas special–but while I dug the bookends, it was the stuff in-between that I had found lacking.

I understood the need for Capaldi, an actor in his fifties to play the new doctor. After David Tennant and Matt Smith, two younger Doctors (with Smith being the youngest to play the role so far), the DW producers had wanted to go in a different direction by going back to the older, father-figure type of doctor that I grew up watching back in the 1970s. And Capaldi was a great choice; he still is. He plays the doctor as an interstellar curmudgeon perfectly. But if only the writing was as good as he is, as well as the other actors.

Where are the kids? The ever precious school kids who've taken over this show, where are they?!

Where are the kids? The ever precious school kids who’ve taken over this show, where are they?!

While there are some good episodes here, like Robot of Sherwood and Flatline, most of the episodes that make up the eight season have a weird, disjointed feel to them, with some of them–like Time Heist–feeling like it had been heavily edited down from a longer version. Another episode, In The Forest of Night, has a happy ending in the very last shot that feels like its been tacked on. In The Forest of Night also shares another problem that’s been running through the eight season: frigging school kids.

Clara Osborne (Jenna Coleman), the doctor’s companion (at least in the episodes where she’s not constantly threatening to leave him) works as a teacher in London, and the Doctor Who writers feel as if we need to always see Clara on the job, working with the kiddies in virtually every episode. And when she’s not playing mother hen to the kids, Clara is playing house with Danny Pink (Samuel Anderson), a fellow teacher at the school. Every so often, Clara manages to take some time from her busy schedule to run off with the Doctor (hey, remember him, that Time Lord guy?).

Time Lord? Traveling through space and time? You mean this wasn't Sesame Street?

Time Lord? Traveling through space and time? You mean this wasn’t Sesame Street?

But even when she’s with the Doctor on a far off adventure, it seems as if Clara is always reminding him that she needs to get back and mark papers, etc. And there are several episodes, like the aforementioned In The Forest of Night, and The Caretaker, and the unbelievably stupid Kill The Moon, where the kiddies from the school are part of the main plot. Is this an attempt to make the show appeal more to children? There’s no need to pander to kids, BBC, because Doctor Who was already a hit with them.

The reason I like to watch Doctor Who is because I need an escape from the everyday, from the mundane. The last thing I need to see on this show is a life lesson from Danny, who’s telling Clara why it’s more important to just stay at home and never mind traveling through space and time. That speech reflects the whole attitude of this season, which is a celebration of the mundane and the everyday. And it’s sad to see Doctor Who embrace the humdrum. That’s like having an episode of Star Trek where Kirk says, “You know what? Screw this exploration shit, let’s get a beer.”

We're about to pull the biggest heist in the universe, and she's babbling about needing to go mark some term papers?!

We’re about to pull the biggest heist in the universe, and she’s babbling about needing to go mark some term papers?!

The season is seeded with scenes throughout of Michelle Gomez, playing the Big Bad, who is “collecting” or “recruiting” people from various episodes after they died. But all my hopes for a really cool finale were smashed once I saw Dark Water and Death In Heaven, which wound up being so lame, with people just standing around, posturing while sprouting catty dialogue–and not doing anything else–that I was actually grateful when it was all finally over.

The advance press for the ninth season of Doctor Who promises that the Doctor and Clara will finally get out and do some hard core exploring through time and space, which is something they should have been doing all along. Here’s hoping this series can get back on the rails before it flies completely off. –SF

Gotham — a review of the show

Now before I wig out and try to kill you, can I offer you anything? Cheeseballs? Potato chips and dip? No? OK, let me just get my knife...

Now before I wig out and try to kill you, can I offer you anything? Cheeseballs? Potato chips and dip? No? OK, let me just get my knife…

Remember back when I reviewed the first episode of Gotham? Remember that? I liked it well enough, but I said then that I couldn’t really make a proper assessment of the entire series based on just one episode.

Well, now I’ve seen the entire season of Gotham–having just watched the incredibly dopey finale last night. And I’ve gotta say, this really isn’t my favorite incarnation of Batman–especially since Batman is nowhere to be seen. Granted, the idea behind this series was to show the rise of the infamous Batman rogues gallery in a Gotham City before the arrival of the Dark Knight. And the Batman villains–Joker, Catwoman, Penguin–are among the most fascinating baddies in comics.

So Gotham should be fantastic, right? Right?!

Tonally, it’s all over the place, with the characters acting stupidly to serve even dumber scripts that try to fit them into preordained story lines–which works about as well as fitting round pegs into square holes. In last night’s season finale, little Selina Kyle, aka She Who Will Be Catwoman, joins the Fish Mooney gang because…well, you know…just because. Selina, a strong female character who traditionally hates authority figures and who is so individualistic that she goes her own way even if it means going at it alone, gleefully becomes one of Mooney’s minions, even to the point of getting her hair styled just like her new very best friend.

We're forming our own pop group, the Eighties Kitties.

We’re forming our own pop group, the Eighties Kitties.

Ugh! If Selina had turned against Mooney, that would at least show a flicker of the Catwoman whom we all know and love. And Fish Mooney is just too bland and uninteresting a character to hinge your entire series on. I kept waiting all season for her a-ha! moment, the moment where she would finally be a real threat (or at least make sense), but the season’s over, and the Gotham writers just couldn’t be bothered because…you know…just because…ugh!

The real hero here was meant to be the young Jim Gordon, who, in the last episode, is desperate to save the life of a mob boss who he thinks would be “right” for Gotham City. (???) WTF? Even if James Gordon isn’t the last decent man on the force (which is what the character always was: an honest cop), if he had an ounce of brains in his head, Gordon would just step aside and let these maniacs kill each other–then go after the last man (or woman) standing. That would at least be cool. But, oh no, Gordon’s reduced to being just another mob lackey here because…you know…whatever…ugh….

There’s been a slow burn build up for a mob war that’s brewing in Gotham City all season long that makes it look like Gotham is striving for a gritty, Nolan-Batman feel. But then they have silly, cartoonish episodes where people are offed by balloons, and then they dive right back into the pseudo-grittiness again. I don’t really mind either direction–Batman has worked with many different interpretations; both serious and comical–but just make up your fricking mind and pick one, already!

Jeez, this show sucks...maybe Joss Whedon has another series for me to do.

Jeez, this show sucks…maybe Joss Whedon has another series for me to do.

The writing overall seems very indecisive, like how they keep toying with the arrival of the Joker (look, a guy in a red hood–oh never mind; wait, here’s a guy who kinda, sorta looks like the Joker, so maybe…oh never mind). As I was watching the final episode with Gordon and Bullock getting captured, escaping and then getting recaptured again, I just got fed up with the whole thing. Gotham has been renewed for a second season, and I hope the fans out there continue to enjoy it (however many of them are left). Me? I’m done, thanks. –SF

Daredevil — a review

There's a power outage in just a select few areas tonight.

There’s a power outage in just a select few areas tonight.

I’ve never read the Daredevil comics, because he never really interested me in the first place. It’s not that I hated the character, there was only so many hours in a day, you know? And when I was a kid I was reading everything else. Superman, the Flash, Spider-Man, Batman…but mainly Batman and the Flash.

My first exposure to Daredevil came with the notorious Ben Affleck film, which was produced well before the dawn of this new Golden Age of Marvel cinema. While I didn’t really HATE Affleck’s Daredevil as much as some did, I admit that it certainly is a flawed and imperfect film.

No, I won't be representing you because I can tell you're guilty by the sound of your heartbeat. Next case....

No, I won’t be representing you because I can tell you’re guilty by the sound of your heartbeat. Next case….

Flash forward to another golden age that’s happening now, that of TV streaming, which is led by another media powerhouse, Netflix. After enjoying success with House of Cards and Orange is the New Black, Netflix has dived into the superhero arena with a new improved version of Daredevil.

And oh boy, has it ever been improved! Daredevil/Matt Murdock is well-played this time by Charlie Cox in a more understated, subtle performance that draws the viewer to him. Wilson Fisk, Daredevil’s main adversary, is played by Vincent D’Onofrio, who’s astoundingly good in the part–so much so that he easily makes it his own. It doesn’t hurt that the writing for this series is incredibly intelligent, dealing with the origin of both Daredevil and his nemesis the Kingpin in a slow-burn build up that’s mesmerizing to watch.

You mind repeating that again? Didn't quite catch it the first time because I was beating the stuffing out of your friends.

You mind repeating that again? Didn’t quite catch it the first time because I was beating the stuffing out of your friends.

The acting, writing and direction are all several steps above what’s available on other superhero shows, and bear in mind that a lot of these present day comic book shows (like The Flash and Arrow) are extremely entertaining. But the producers of Daredevil, led by writer/producer Drew Goddard, strive to up the ante whenever they can–like the incredible battle sequence at the end of the second episode, which runs continuously for several minutes with no cuts. There’s also their interesting choice to introduce Fisk as a shy man bumbling his way through asking a woman out for a date, after previously setting him up to be akin to the antichrist.

We either can do this the easy way, or my way.

We either can do this the easy way, or my way.

That’s the mark of a truly great series; just when you think you can predict where it’s going, the writers pull the rug out from under you (and the characters) in a smart way that not only still makes sense, but sends the story careening along an exciting path. This series was made for binge-watching; although the episodes stand alone, when viewed together, you get the feel of watching an epic motion picture, or reading a sprawling novel with a cast of richly imagined characters. Thank you, Marvel, for recognizing there are comics fans who enjoy a complex and gritty story, and thank you Netflix, for bringing this outstanding tale to us. –SF