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

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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

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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

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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

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Tick

With all the superhero saturation, how about we discuss a superhero parody?

er-thetick01The Tick (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Another series by Amazon, this time reimagining the mock superhero Tick: a cheerful, blue mountain of muscle with feelers on his head. Together with an accidental sidekick Arthur in his moth costume they take on the Terror: an octagenerian (?) evil-doer. This description should give you a good idea about the tone of the show.

How I found it:
I used to enjoy the animated Tick from the 90s. I found it when I was first getting interested in the superhero genre and while I found some episodes uneven, I still enjoyed the humor in many of them. I didn’t immediately get excited about a live action version but in the end I decided to check it out.

Summary judgment:
It’s the right approach to the often overstuffy genre. I enjoyed it.

Best things about it:
Except for the first episode it hits the right tone, embracing the full ridiculousness of both superheroes in general and this specific bunch of them. Most of the characters, even some villains, are exceptionally likable and many ideas made me laugh.

Worst things about it:
The first episode doesn’t, I feel, know exactly where it wants to go: at times it’s a bit too close to Daredevil (I don’t like Daredevil). Overall, the show doesn’t necessarily become something essential but it’s a pleasant enough way to pass the time.

Other pluses:
✤ Ms. Lint might be my favorite villain of the superhero genre, especially with her very logical predicament (see the name).
✤ You have no idea how much I appreciate the villain as a creepy old guy because I always see them as villainous (take Xavier, for instance).
✤ I like the casual cheerfulness of the characters.
✤ There are small funny details, like Terror’s ship in the shape of T, whose escape pod is shaped like a lower case t. What, I like this kind of stuff. While we’re at it, I also found the creepy Danger Boat funny.

Other minuses:
Except for the fact I already mentioned, that is the general insubstantiality of the story, I don’t have complaints.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me a few fun evenings and it made my husband, even more genre-weary than me, reconsider superheroes.

Fun fact:
In the Polish-dubbed version of the animated Tick, they found the perfect voice for the main character: he made you feel happier and safer. But while Peter Serafinowicz doesn’t look exactly like I’d imagine the Tick, he does a good job with the voice-acting.

Follow-up:
Season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of superheroes who have gotten tired of the seriousness of those stories.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The Lost Books of the Odyssey

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Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Riverdale After Dark

My history with podcasts is patchy. Whenever I get interested in one, the creators undergo a personal drama and I need to look for something else (maybe that comes from listening to podcasts by married couples; podcasting seems hard on relationships). I’m also not great at finding new podcasts but I lucked out recently.

Riverdale After Dark by Comic Book Club

Category: Podcasts

Find it on: iTunes

What it is:
Three comic book specialists – and, clearly, friends – discuss new episodes of Riverdale as they come out. They recap the plot, discuss red herrings and suspects, fight about ships and choose between Betty and Veronica. And they’re hilarious while doing all that.

How I found it:
As I said, I don’t have a good way of finding podcasts yet. Recently I tried typing stuff I’m watching or reading into iTunes search and that’s exactly how I found Riverdale After Dark.

Summary judgment:
This might be my new favorite.

Best things about it:
It makes me laugh so hard. The guys are as good-humoredly disrespectful of one another as only true friends can be. But at the same time you can hear them trying to be generally respectful and decent in what they say, and not in a forced way that some podcasters have, as if they had the Department of Political Correctness listening in. They seem like a cool lot to hang out with.

Worst things about it:
How it’s limited by the number of episodes of the TV show. I  wish there were more episodes to listen to.

Other pluses:
This show keeps me bursting out laughing. It has so many great moments. I also enjoy the things they have to say about the storylines and the Archie trivia I get to learn.

Other minuses:
I don’t mind at all but I can imagine the explicit language and raunchiness of some of the jokes might be discouraging to some listeners.

How it enriched my life:
It helped me through many hours of work and, a minor gain, I also learned about various elements of Riverdale that allude to Archie Comics.

Fun fact:
I listen to the podcast on my earphones while I work and whenever I laugh out loud my husband gets really irritated. But he’s been doing exactly the same thing ever since he found another podcast he likes and I was perfectly polite about it, let me just remark.

Follow-up:
Comic Book Club has a general podcast on comics and I might check it out but I’m afraid my comics knowledge is too spotty and far-from-current to really enjoy it. But I will listen to their Legion podcast and I’m even willing to give American Gods a chance (the TV show first, of course).

Recommended for:
Fans of Riverdale, who want to feel as if they’re discussing the show with funny friends.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Lady Audley’s Secret

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Riverdale (S1)

I never read Archie Comics. I was aware of their existence but I only knew that’s where “Betty and Veronica” came from (TV Tropes is my heroin). But I saw the trailer for Riverdale and decided it looked interesting.

er-riverdale-1Riverdale (season 1)

Category: TV show

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A CW reinvention of classic Archie characters, which tries to make the story dark. It starts with the murder of Jason Blossom (and some statutory rape, to be very strict about it) to make it sufficiently dark from the go. Archie, Betty and Veronica (and also everyone’s favorite pretentious Jughead) are all somewhat involved with the murder, and with one another. The whole other bunch of stories revolves around the parents (who include Luke Perry, so I’m all for it) and their mostly dark pasts. So you know, it’s not the classic Archie story.

How I found it:
After I saw the trailer, I watched a couple of episodes and while I liked the look of the show, I dropped it for a long time. But during our game of Monster Hearts (never mind), A was always using Riverdale for inspiration and it made me return to finish the season.

Summary judgment:
This show turns out to be a lot of fun.

Best things about it:
It looks great. The stylization, the colors, everyone’s eyebrows: it’s all to the point and makes watching the show a visual feast. I particularly like how they use colored lights, especially aqua, magenta and red, to create the mood of the whole thing. Seriously, there are no white light bulbs in the entire town – and it creates such a memorable look. Oh yeah, and the story is okay, I guess.

Worst things about it:
I couldn’t care less about Jason Blossom’s murder. This whole crime part of the show didn’t grab me at all.

Other pluses:
✤ Well, hello there, Luke Perry. I spent my late childhood in love with Dylan McKay and I’m glad to see Luke Perry mature well.
✤ Speaking of this, Mrs. Cooper looks great: she’s clearly not 30 but possibly one of the most attractive people on the show. I like that age shows on some of the parents.
✤ I like how the show is going for far-fetched rather than realistic and how it’s clearly a decision, not an accident. It (barely) saves it from just being a weird soap opera.

Other minuses:
So here are a couple of characters I hate: Mr. Blossom, Mrs. Blossom, Mrs. Grundy (ugh). Veronica straddles the line and Hermione often crosses it.

How it enriched my life:
At first it was a bit of a time-killer but then I got quite invested.

Fun fact:
It’s got nothing to do with Riverdale, just with Dylan McKay but close enough. So a couple of years ago we watched a few first episodes of Beverly Hills 90210 and wow, was Dylan a terrible boyfriend. At one point he tells Brenda that he has his “needs” and it’s not his fault that she finds him with another girl if she missed a train by which she was supposed to come see him. It ruined some of my precious childhood fantasies. Also, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re clearly not my generation.

Follow-up:
I’m ready for season two.

Recommended for:
Fans of teen soap dramas on the dark side who don’t mind them rather theatrical. People who miss Beverly Hills 90210.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Still at it with Riverdale After Dark

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