Randomosity, Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Magicians

I read a few pages of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians in a bookstore once (it’s a thing I used to do) and I fell in instant love. Then I read the whole book and I still enjoyed it a lot though I very much did not enjoy volume two and so didn’t read on. However, I was still interested in the TV adaptation.

er-themagiciansThe Magicians (S1–3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
This is this adaptation. So far it’s had three seasons, each one, I’d say, better than the previous ones. The story in the show (it differs a lot from those books I read) focuses on a group of students who are accepted into a mysterious college of magic where they learn to harness, well, magic. They are, however, all damaged in their ways and so their magical talents might do them (and the world?) more bad than good. They also discover that the magical world of Fillory of which they (some of them) read as children is real and much less idyllic than the books claimed.

How I found it:
Even though I didn’t love the second book and gave up on the literary series, I knew the adaptation was in the works and was curious. In fact, I watched season 1 a long time ago and barely remember it, especially as it didn’t enchant me (har-har) but I’m glad I never gave up on the show after that.

Summary judgment:
I seriously can’t wait for the next season!

Best things about it:
As the show progresses, it manages to get you more and more interested in the story and the characters (who start off as pretty unbearable). As it embraces the silliness of the premise, it finds ways to become what it should: a fairy tale for adults, not just because of the sex and violence (which, mercifully, they limit later) but especially because of the sense of wonder. It’s so rare these days that a story would evoke this fascination and simple curiosity about what’s going to happen next, which used to be the main reason for reading and watching stuff as a child.

Worst things about it:
Season one starts drunk on the fact that they’re able to show an “adult” fantasy in precisely the wrong sense. This results in a rather depressing story about a bunch of people you’d like to see quartered (well, not literally) rather than succeed.

Other pluses:
✤ Grossman’s book tries to take a more realistic view on what it would be like for young people to get magical powers. It seems to suggest that they wouldn’t do a whole lot of good with it, instead ending up as burnt out disappointments. Starting with this assumption, Grossman gets to play with fantasy tropes and famous series (most notably Harry Potter and Narnia) in quite an interesting and often funny way. The show find its way to this fun, too, and adds to it a lot of meta-humor, with characters recapping stuff to each other and explaining the archetypes which they represent. I know there are classy people who frown upon such things but me this ain’t.
✤ I love the kickass women of the show: Alice and Julia. Both of them are beautiful, smart and powerful and leave the men of the story  in their dust without even trying.
✤ But I also like Penny, jerk that he is. Arjun Gupta is doing possibly the most convincing job with inhabiting his character.
✤ I’m so glad that as the show progresses, the creators stop  being afraid of showing heart: they gradually shed the cynicism and discover that the story only gets better for it.
✤ The fantasy world looks very pretty: from the slightly psychedelic Fillory, through rather unimpressive Brakebills to the gloomy city, all the environments have recognizable visual tone.
✤ I particularly liked the structure of the third season. No more storylines dragging so long that you forget what they are about: instead the characters go on a quest and each episode has a slightly different idea (or gimmick). They even managed an unrepulsive musical episode (gosh, how I normally hate those).

Other minuses:
✤ Even though she slightly grew on me, especially during the last season, it was still a long way to grow and I am not entirely sure I’ve forgiven Margo for being the worst.
✤ Some other characters that it took me a while to, well, even recognize, let alone care about are Kady and Fen. I just don’t find them as compelling.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me many pleasants evenings and the, already mentioned, child-like sense of enchantment and wonderment.

Follow-up:
I wish season 4 was here already because I’m really curious about what’s going to happen (unfascinating as the new big bad looks yet).

Recommended for:
People who love urban fantasy and Narnia-like fantasy and would like to see it not only combined but also from a (sort of) adult perspective.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Arthur & George

Advertisements
Standard
Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: The Americans

Another brilliant show that ended not long ago (and I only recently caught up with the final seasons):

er-theamericansThe Americans (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A period drama, happening in Washington of 1980s, it focuses on a pair of KGB agents working under the disguise of a typical American married couple. The show focuses on the question of lies and deception, imagining the mentality of people whose entire life is a facade and what happens when this facade begins to crumble. Also, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes spy stuff, if that’s more your jam.

How I found it:
When it first aired, I saw a trailer and found it interesting – though it was a trailer for an entirely different show, a sort of action-packed satire and not this existential psychological drama that we were eventually graced with. So I’m glad both that the trailer got me interested in the show and that it misrepresented it.

Summary judgment:
That might be the most thought-provoking, truly adult show I have seen in recent years.

Best things about it:
No show ever has made me and my husband discuss it as much as this one. We would pause the show to vent our emotions about the story and the characters and we would carry the conversations after we finished watching, analyzing the motives and illusions of the protagonists. Of course, being from Central Europe, we can’t look at KGB as a stock action-drama Agency but we have a more visceral reaction to the issue.
The show’s focus on the inner drama of the characters: their psychological motivations and limits, their humanity (or its lack sometimes) catapults the show so, so far away from any James Bond-nonsense that the theme might suggest.

Worst things about it:
Sometimes, rarely enough, the show will veer into more action-packed Cold War thriller one might expect (particularly badly in season four) and while this would be fully acceptable and maybe even enjoyable somewhere else, on The Americans it feels like a wasted opportunity for further moral explorations.

Other pluses:
✤ What I said so far will probably sound to some of you very much as anti-praise and a recipe for a perfectly boring show, sort of Bergman about Russian spies. But that would not take into account how tight most of the story is and how invested one feels in the plotlines.
✤ Matthew Rhys as Philip is breathtaking. He creates such a nuanced, heartbreaking performance that you want to hug him, shake him and slap him, sometimes in the same scene. But mostly you just keep rooting for him to do the right thing.
✤ Most of the other performances are also very convincing and memorable.
✤ Perhaps most importantly this is such a smart show. It never tells you too much, at the risk of confusing you or allowing for different, conflicting interpretations of the characters’ motives and feelings. Instead, it allows you to draw your own conclusions.
✤ The 1980s work in this vision – the period feels lived-in not caricatural, as it is often shown. I read that the producers had to limit the 1980s fashion so as not to make it distracting and in the first season I was a bit surprised to see this visually calmer version of the 80s but then I really got used to it. Also, the show has a distinctive visual style, with the muted color palettes (so much brown).

Other minuses:
✤ Keri Russell as Elizabeth does not, unfortunately, rise to Rhys’s standard (but calling this tour de force “standard” is probably unfair) and her character for most of the series is odious in her blind devotion to a child’s notion of communism.
✤ That’s not a minus exactly but the show does not give a lot of historical background for its political plots. I wonder if people from other areas of the world realize just how bad Philip and Elizabeth’s employers are. But again, it’s part of the smartness of the show, letting you figure things out for yourself.

How it enriched my life:
I rarely watch shows with such excitement and so many emotions about whatever’s going on. This was also a bonding experience for me and my husband because of all the discussions it provoked.

Fun fact:
Philip and Elizabeth constantly wear disguises and most of them are unbelievably silly. You would think they couldn’t possibly work but then again I have no idea how people are ever able to describe anyone to the sketch artist so they would certainly work on me. (Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to accurately describe things like the chin or nose of my closest friends from memory.)

Follow-up:
We had a huge break between seasons 3 and 4 so not everything happening was crystal clear and this is a great reason for a re-watch some time in the future. Also, I’m possibly there for Matthew Rhys’s next project (unless it’s something awful).

Recommended for:
People looking for a smarter kind of show.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: The 50 States

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Younger (S5)

And here we go back to Younger to talk about its fifth season.

er-younger5Younger (S5)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
The season starts with further exposition of Liza’s secret and this time it’s Charles who finds out. Most of the season revolves around the ramifications of this discovery and the other characters have something to do, too, but it’s messy and less memorable.

How I found it:
I was glad the show was back.

Summary judgment:
Again, I enjoyed the ride.

Best things about it:
I was glad they didn’t keep turning away from Liza and Charles’s romance, which kept developing from the very beginning and we deserved to finally see where it could go. As I’m usually a shipper unless I hate a party of the ship, I was happy to see them together and interested in how the show chose to present the relationship.

Worst things about it:
This felt less essential than the previous season. I feel that perhaps the premise of the show is slowly winding down and maybe it would even make sense to finish with season 6? Not that I wouldn’t miss my TV bubble gum.

Other pluses:
✤ I’m glad the show manages to keep telling the story even if the original premise is increasingly less relevant. I don’t mind seeing the moment when everyone learns the truth: it’s high time to try that and I hope season 6 goes there.

Other minuses:
✤ I didn’t like Quentin the Magician as Kelsey’s love interest, nor really anything else Kelsey had to do away from Liza.
✤ Many of the characters, most noticeably Lauren, have absolutely nothing to do in the story.
✤ As I already indicated, it wasn’t really a memorable experience. In fact, except for the romance between Liza and Charles, I have trouble coming up with things that happened this season.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me, as always, 20 minutes of respite each week (this time I got to spend it lying down because pregnancy).

Follow-up:
Season 6 and probably onwards.

Recommended for:
Fans of the previous seasons, particularly those invested in Liza and Charles.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Wicked + The Divine

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Nashville

Another show I watched regularly ended quite recently so let me share with you a few reflections on the whole of

er-nashvilleNashville (S1–6)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A TV show about the country music industry in Nashville, focusing, at least at first, on two divas: Rayna James played by Connie Britton and Juliette Barnes played by Hayden Panettiere. The show had six seasons, two of which happened on another TV station after the first one cancelled it, and most of the initial premise didn’t last past season one but it also sometimes dealt with local politics and a lot of family drama and always provided a lot of sudsy entertainment, even at its worst.

How I found it:
Six years ago when the show debuted I was quite up to date on all the new TV happening (not so much since) so I was immediately interested in it from the preview. And the first season really grabbed my interest.

Summary judgment:
It never lived up to the initial promise but I still enjoyed the bumpy ride.

Best things about it:
Season one and what the show tried to do then promised a quality story about an interesting corner of the world and it did deliver a part of it. I didn’t care so much about the diva rivalry and I didn’t mind when they dropped it but, unfortunately, together they also gave up on more mature aspects of the original story and replaced them with a whole bunch of random guest stars and increasingly ridiculous plotlines.

Worst things about it:
As hinted above, the fact that the show didn’t manage to remain what it set out to be, instead becoming a true soap opera with many caricatures instead of characters and many ridiculously contrived stories. It gradually gave up on treating Nashville as an interesting place worth showing, replacing the local color with generic settings. And after season one the music got worse, too.

Other pluses:
✤ Still, some of the music was pretty good. True, most of it veered toward bland pop (which I think is true of most popular country today?) but every now and then they offered a song that stood out, particularly those sang by the marvelous (and fan-hated, for some reason) Clare Bowen.
✤ Clare Bowen deserves a separate bullet point because while her character, Scarlett, rarely got a worthy storyline and was mostly manipulated into boring would-be romances, she always managed to deliver a heartfelt performance and she sings beautifully.
✤ Special mention to other actors I enjoyed on the show: Charles Esten, Jonathan Jackson, Aubrey Peeples and Oliver Hudson (another hated couple) and, unsurprisingly, Connie Britton. Also, the Stella sisters, sometimes. In general, many of the actors and the relations they build between the characters lift the show above a soap, even when writing doesn’t, and make the stories more human and believable.

Other minuses:
✤ From season three the shows gets a bit boring. In fact, when I was trying to rewatch all of it, I only got so far as the beginning of season three and gave up. I did enjoy revisiting the first one, though.
✤ Most of the later storylines are so random, centering on new characters that’s just been dropped on us and giving them up later without proper resolution. It often feels like the creators weren’t sure what they wanted to do with the characters in the long run.
✤ I know she was a fan-favorite but I almost never liked Juliette or missed her when she disappeared from the show for episodes at a time. There’s just something about Hayden Panettiere in this role that grates on my nerves.

How it enriched my life:
While it was never the most exciting watch of the week for me, it almost always delivered an hour of pleasure. And even though the show grew weaker and weaker as the seasons went by, I was still sorry to see it go.

Fun fact:
I’m not saying I did buy I’m not saying I didn’t listen to some of the soundtrack albums, particularly for the first two seasons.

Follow-up:
Ah, I wish there was one but so far I have found nothing to fill this hole in my heart that is reserved for a show about mostly acoustic music and the drama it causes among those who sacrifice their life to it. Granted, it’s a very specific hole.

Recommended for:
People looking for a slightly better soap for whom its saturation with country music is a good thing not a deterrent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Tropic of Cancer

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Cloak & Dagger

Keeping up with the superhero fare, we watched

er-cloakanddaggerCloak & Dagger (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Freeform tries their own approach to Marvel with this story of two teen superheroes discovering their powers. Tandy, or Dagger (though, to the show’s credit, they don’t really use nicknames) has light powers: she can manipulate hopes and create deadly daggers made of light. Ty (Cloak) manipulates fears and teleports. They go against evil corporations and corrupt police in a very lovingly portrayed New Orleans.

How I found it:
I knew it was one of Marvel shows in development and while I didn’t wait excitedly for this one, I was still interested enough to give it a try.

Summary judgment:
I enjoyed this one well enough.

Best things about it:
I guess the surprise that this show is. Even though it’s produced by Freeform, the home of teen soaps, it doesn’t focus on love triangles and dramatic backstabbings. Instead it goes for a more sombre tone and not everyone looks like a supermodel.

Worst things about it:
I guess Ty and Tandy’s personal stories and stakes didn’t grab me as much as they could’ve: for most part I was only somewhat interested in their troubles.
And a particular pet peeve: the shaky camera. We know you can afford a tripod, Disney, stop being pretentious.

Other pluses:
✤ The city of New Orleans and how it’s an integral part of the story, not just an anonymous setting. The stakes become more intimate (they don’t fight to save the world, just their city) and this is always a feature of any good urban fantasy that the city lives in it.
✤ I particularly enjoyed the police storyline, which is normally not my interest. But the corrupt police department and the one good cop won me over.
✤ I liked the proportion of action scenes to drama. It didn’t feel like the writers were obliged to put a fighting scene into every episode just so it would be there.

Other minuses:
Sometimes it was really hard to root for Tandy with all the cruel decisions she habitually made.

How it enriched my life:
It became another show to watch with my husband – and literally the only Freeform show he’s ever seen with me (yes, I’ve seen quite a few; miss you, Greek).

Fun fact:
The thing that made the show double fun for me was the fact that Comic Book Club guys made an after-podcast about it. Hearing their take on the show made watching it more fun.

Follow-up:
I will watch season two and see which way it goes.

Recommended for:
Marvel fans looking for a slightly younger angle without the overpolished look that Runaways have.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Age of Wonder

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Dietland

er-dietlandDietland (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Sometimes considered a #metoo revenge fantasy (sometimes veering that way, too), this story of overweight Plum describes her plunge into a female guerilla group Jennifer, who murders evil men (at first, anyway). But before she turns a sort-of revolutionary, Plum works for a lifestyle magazine and saves her money for a life-threatening operation to lose weight, only to slowly reject all that.

How I found it:
I got interested when I saw Margulies would be playing but didn’t love the trailer so I didn’t start watching immediately. However, after a few reviews I decided it sounded interesting.

Summary judgment:
I had fun watching it but, overall, I’m afraid I just wasted my time.

Best things about it:
Definitely Joy Nash as Plum. She’s got so much charisma she steals the screen with her one smile and, no matter how much she’s sold by the story as an ugly fatty, she’s really pretty. I hope she’ll get to play somewhere where her plus size won’t be the only qualification.
The story starts really well when it focuses on Plum and her internal struggles and the further the show goes away from her in the second half, the more characters it introduces, the less interesting it becomes.

Worst things about it:
This show needed more thought because it doesn’t know what it wants to say. Not only does it split into two parts barely hanging together: Plum’s character drama and Jennifer’s social thriller (?), but also it never gives us a clear message as to who it wants us to root for. Should we applaud the terrorist group Jennifer? Maybe, they’re likeable when we meet them and the show really wants us to feel their anger but they are still murderers.

Other pluses:
✤ I really liked the animations and the whole illustrated version of Plum. They added  necessary quirkiness but got sadly sidelined later.
✤ It managed to create a few strong moments, like when Plum emails the girls she used to anonymously advise with an open admission of who she is. But they didn’t usually go far enough.
✤ The French-looking ex-policeman has some potential for an interesting character.

Other minuses:
✤ The show sells out its background characters, not giving them enough motivation and story for us to care about. Julianna Margulies’ Kitty is the starkest example. I loved Margulies in The Good Wife, where she proved to be an incredibly mature actress with a wide range of skills. But here she merely chews the scenery and makes people kiss her boot (the latter thing literally). I’m sure she’s having fun but after 10 episodes I still don’t know if she’s supposed to be a villain, an anti-hero, a comic relief or a pretty piece of scenery.
✤ There are way too many side characters, many of which appear too late and take the time away from those we’ve already gotten interested in. Consequently, nobody’s story gets a conclusion. 10 episodes is plenty to tell a full tale but I feel Dietland barely managed to start.
✤ I really disliked the tiger thing (though if they dared to try more experimental storytelling in later episodes, maybe it would’ve paid off better).

How it enriched my life:
I enjoyed the watching experience well enough, even if it didn’t give me as much food for thought as it could’ve.

Follow-up:
I would consider watching season two but I doubt it will happen.

Recommended for:
People who like a dose of questionable social justice in their dramas. Fans of Joy Nash or Marti Noxon.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: Crooked Kingdom

Standard
Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lovesick

You might remember I have a curiosity about romantic comedies which usually leaves me disappointed. But this experience wasn’t too bad, actually.

er-lovesickLovesick (seasons 1–3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A British show centering on Dylan (played by Johnny Flynn, who I’d only known as a good folk singer before) and his two friends, Luke and Evie. Dylan discovers he’s contracted chlamydia, which prompts him to get in touch with all his exes (so many of them) and this becomes a quest for true love and for the answer why it’s so hard for him to find it.

How I found it:
I’m not sure but I think it was on a list of best British TV shows.

Summary judgment:
It’s an enjoyable little pastime, without great depths but no great flaws either.

Best things about it:
It’s a charming little story about three (and then four) imperfect friends guaranteed not to depress you. The gimmicky storytelling works (for me, at least, but I like this kind of thing; give me flashbacks and cold opens and whatever professional TV critics frown upon). Even though Dylan as a character irritates, Johnny Flynn sells him with such unquestionable charm that you have to like him.

Worst things about it:
Personally, I never got behind Evie, which becomes a problem with the main romantic interest. I found almost every other character, including most minor ones, more interesting and definitely rooted more for Abigail (who was great and probably deserved better than Dylan anyway).

Other pluses:
✤ Even when the minor characters come close to caricatures, they usually remain a bit more than that and keep you at least mildly interested in their stories.
✤ How side characters grow on you when they get bigger roles (particularly Angus).
✤ The flashbacks related to the titles of episodes intrigue because you start wondering who each new girl will be (and sometimes the answers turn out surprising).

Other minuses:
✤ As I said, I liked the gimmick for the show’s structure in the first two seasons: Dylan going after all his exes and re-living his romantic life in flashbacks. In fact, when the convention changes in the third season, it becomes less interesting. But sometimes I got really confused as to what happened before what. Probably my fault though and it didn’t really matter all that much.
✤ As, I find, is true of most romantic comedies, it’s not really a laugh-out-loud kind of comedy. It’s still fairly cheerful.

How it enriched my life:
This was a perfect evening watch, letting me go to sleep in a better mood. Too few shows manage to do this.

Fun fact:
So the alternative – or original – title for this show is actually Scrotal Recall. Another proof of how you shouldn’t always go for a pun just because you came up with one (note to self, as well).
Fun fact no 2: the poster doesn’t have a scrawl on it but my son caught my drawing before I scanned it and decided to color it (with the same color so I couldn’t edit it out, not without a lot of hassle). It might look better now though.

Follow-up:
As I understand, the show is over but I think it ran just long enough. I might get back to it one day.

Recommended for:
People who enjoy modern comedies of manners (of sorts, if by manners you mean modes of interpersonal behavior, which I do) and who like their romantic comedies with a large dose of promiscuity. Oh, and fans of the British accent.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: An Invisible Sign of My Own

Standard