Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Veronica Mars (S3)

So the shark got a little bit jumped. In style, though.

er-veronicamars3Veronica Mars (S3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Veronica arrives at the same problem all high school stories eventually encounter: how to do the college years? She goes to Hearst in Neptune (which is more or less justified in the narrative), together with Logan, Wallace and Mac (not all of these are justified) and the story continues.

How I found it:
How could I not.

Summary judgment:
Eh, this season is undeniably weaker than the previous ones. It’s still decent TV.

Best things about it:
We get to spend one more season with Veronica and see how she deals with becoming adult. Despite all the details I might disagree with (and I do), this is still very enjoyable to watch and Veronica still has my heart captured.

Worst things about it:
This season introduced a lot of changes and I feel almost all are for the worse. This includes shorter arcs, which only makes them less compelling (and still too long for the amount of mystery they carry). This was, I think, forced by the network and that was a terrible job, network. I don’t even like the new version of the credits (not that I like the previous one so much). Also, the show gets chopped at the end with the last few arcs going nowhere.

Other pluses:
✤ I like the friendship between Veronica and Mac.
✤ We get to see some of Veronica and Logan relationship, even though it’s not particularly satisfying to the shippers.
✤ Jackie’s gone. Small mercies.

Other minuses:
✤ The new characters, well, suck. Veronica and Piz make no sense and Parker is just irritating for most of the time.
✤ I detest everything about the rape storyline, particularly the cartoonish way feminists are shown.
✤ What are the Fitzpatricks still doing there?! Couldn’t they cut this storyline when making other, less necessary changes?
✤ Hearst is a nightmarish hellhole. I don’t understand who would ever stay in this godawful place run by incompetent people and full of psychotic criminals. This season might be one of the most terrifying visions of college experience I’ve ever seen (excluding horrors but I don’t watch them).

How it enriched my life:
I’m glad we got one more season of Veronica’s story and despite its weaknesses I’d want more.

Follow-up:
The movie, the books and finally the revival. However, I’m not reviewing any of those in this run, maybe next time I rewatch everything.

Recommended for:
Anyone who fell in love with Veronica and her story couldn’t miss the third season.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: This ends my discussion of Veronica for now. Next “Daisy Jones and the Six”

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Veronica Mars (S2)

As I said in season 1 review, season 2 is very good but not as perfect.

er-veronicamars2Veronica Mars (S2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
Veronica’s story continues but with Lilly Kane’s murderer now captured the show needs something else to focus on. And boy, does it try to find it. In the very first episode a whole busload of kids gets killed in a crash and it only gets more intense from there.

How I found it:
Of course, I was never going to not watch it after season 1.

Summary judgment:
It retains the charm of the first season but it loses its focus. Like, a lot.

Best things about it:
The return to Neptune, to Veronica and Keith and the rest of the bunch is exciting and we learn so much more about pretty much everyone.

Worst things about it:
Frankly, the show has too much going on. The first season was a polished gem, with all the clues neatly planted and all the main characters involved in the single season-long mystery. Here, almost everyone has their own thing going on and the convoluted plots just wind and wind around each other, most of them not going anywhere in the end. In fact, the bus crash mystery only gets explained through things that happen in the last episode and so the viewer is not even rewarded for paying close attention to the plethora of previous clues.
But I always feel removing the stupid Fitzpatricks, who feel like a transplant from a completely different show, would fix most of these issues.

Other pluses:
✤ I like the portrait of Veronica’s school. I feel it’s really becoming more developed this season. It’s in high school where Veronica and friends’ story is the most poignant. I also enjoy the sense of the ending (of high school), of being done with things and ready for the new chapter that a lot of the season has – I find it quite realistic.
✤ Some of the very side characters: Ken Marino’s Vinnie and Daran Norris’s Cliff are comedic gold.
✤ Duncan goes away.

Other minuses:
✤ Ugh, Jackie. Even though she does this complete turnaround halfway through the season, I for one refuse to forget how unnecessarily awful she is at first. Also, her story really doesn’t go anywhere.
✤ With the number of ongoing storylines, most cases of the week feel particularly, er, weak.
✤ Logan is criminally underused and sullied for no reason with that storyline with Kendall Casablancas. Also, I never noticed it before but the whole Logan-Veronica thing is mostly on the “won’t they” side and this gets frustrating.
✤ The mayor’s creepiness. I guess it’s technically a plus and a testament to the actor’s ability but I just can’t look at him without flinching and it’s tiresome to flinch all the time.

How it enriched my life:
Despite all my complaints, this season also gave me a lot of joy.

Follow-up:
All the rest of Veronica story.

Recommended for:
People who loved season one and want more of the world so much that they don’t mind the Fitzpatricks. Ugh, the Fitzpatricks.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Season 3

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Show Case

Wildly Enthusiastic Review: Veronica Mars (S1)

Whoa, what a break. Guys, I might be less organized than I thought. Anyway, here we go. Most of this review was written three months ago anyway.

In preparation for the new Veronica miniseries I rewatched yet again everything Veronica Mars. As we’re talking season one, let the gushing begin.

er-veronicamars1Veronica Mars (S1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
A cult TV show that started in 2004. Veronica Mars is a teenage sleuth, which works much better than it should. While she’s solving small-time high school mysteries for cash, she’s also working to discover who killed her best friend, Lilly Kane. It is all a stuff of myths from here.

How I found it:
I was aware that the show was on TV but I didn’t care then because the premise sounded so silly. But I kept hearing about it and finally gave it a try because who am I to frown upon silly shows happening in a high school? And wow, did I love it. I watched the last episodes of the first season on the edge of my seat. Since then I’ve already re-watched the show a couple of times.

A special badge for marking the things that continue to delight me.Summary judgment:
This is one of the best first seasons in history.

Best things about it:
It is a well thought out season-long mystery that manages to gel believably with cases of the week. Neptune immediately has a strong, recognizable character as a noir town. Veronica is a unique heroine, simultaneously guarded and charming, and also capable of the best banter.
But who am I kidding? I am and always will be returning to the story for the hot gorgeous love story between Logan and Veronica, one of my favorite dysfunctional couples of pop culture.

Worst things about it:
If we’re nitpicking (and you know me, always am), I guess some of the cases of the week feel less essential and less organically arriving from the world of Neptune (my particular unfavorite is “Lord of the Bling”) but I don’t think you can avoid skippable episodes in a long season.

Other pluses:
✤ Plenty of actors shine so bright in this show but I have to give the goldest star to Jason Dohring as Logan. He does a lot of things right (and some of the things his character does are downright repulsive but he pulls it off) but mostly throughout the story he shows such heartbreaking vulnerability. He should’ve gotten all the prizes. Also, when you know how their love will blossom, it’s such fun to look for the first sparks in the early episodes. But I’m a sappy romantic.
✤ Also, Kristen Bell is Veronica. I can’t see her in any other role and not see Veronica. She created a masterpiece in this role.
✤ An extra minor point: I like how Veronica Mars is a tribute to Buffy, from the diminutive evil-fighting blonde to the appearances of some Whedon actors. (Very much a side-note: I’m probably shorter than her so I’m using the word “diminutive” with all the caution.)

Other minuses:
✤ I am just another one of those fans who hate on Duncan but knowing that he will go away for ever (spoiler) I don’t mind him so much anymore.
✤ A few of the issue-related themes don’t get old so well but nothing drastic, I think.
✤ I don’t get all the Wallace love. He’s a plot device at best, a distraction at worst (though that happens in season two, mostly). I’m learning to feel neutral about him but I don’t think I will warm up to him too much.
✤ Something absolutely unimportant from the show’s point of view but it bothers me increasingly every time I re-watch: why can’t Mac have a relationship with her blood family? Don’t get it. Really don’t.

How it enriched my life:
It gave me so much thrill, and not just the first time I watched.

Follow-up:
Season 2 is alright, though not as perfect. I don’t like season 3. The movie disappointed me but the books, surprisingly, hold up. And the revival… well, I’m not sure.

Recommended for:
I don’t know who it is not recommended for. People who hate great entertainment, I guess.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Next time: Season 2

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Personalness

Best of 2018

Obviously, I’m the kind of person who loves end of year summaries. Have you even met me? Here we go.
Sidenote: I’m only counting the things I read and saw for the first time this year.

Favorite books

5. An Enchantment of Ravensby Margaret Rogerson
A truly charming attempt at a fairly tale for adults (even if young ones).

4. The Lost Books of the Odyssey by Zachary Mason
A thoughtful play on the original Odyssey, and, I feel, more palatable to a modern reader. Reviewed here.

3. Faith beyond Belief: Spirituality for Our Times by David Steindl-Rast and Anselm Grün
Not the kind of book I usually discuss here but this is a book on spirituality I would recommend even to those who feel allergic to the very idea (or maybe expecially to them). I’ve been a fan of brother David for a while now.

2. Among Others by Jo Walton
A perfectly original, delightful book, combining a few of my favorite things: magic, geek girls and a boarding school. Reviewed here.

1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
I know you’ll excuse the obvious pun but this classic that I never knew before has absolutely captured my heart.

Favorite movies

5. Avengers: Infinity War
Mainly for being better than I expected it to be. It certainly didn’t shake my world. Reviewed here.

4. Love, Simon
A cute, little movie, but with a progressive edge. Reviewed here.

3. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
While not nearly as progressive, this movie gave me so much simple joy.

2. Whiplash
Tense, exciting and somewhat relatable, an intellectual treat. Reviewed here.

1. Song of the Sea
An absolute beauty. Reviewed here.

Favorite TV shows

5. The Tick (S1)
Superheroes done differently. Also, Lint. Reviewed here.

4. Nashville (S6)
It was so bad but I still want to mention it. Reviewed here.

3. Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (S2)
A lot of fun and looks lovely but maybe loses some of season one’s edge.

2. The Americans (S6)
Such a smart, emotional show. One of the best I’ve ever seen. Reviewed here.

1. The Magicians (S2 & S3)
The most fun I’ve had with TV in a while. Reviewed here.

Favorite songs

(Or: new additions to my Spotify playlist of discoveries, not necessarily the songs I listened to the most this year.)

5. “Don’t Know How” by honeyhoney
A bit of an earworm, but enjoyable.

4. “Tougher than the Rest” by Camera Obscura
Silly but sweet.

3. “The Way It Goes” by Gillian Welch
This one has a kick to it.

2. “My Antonia” by Emmylou Harris
Melancholic and charming.

1. “Iowa” by Dar Williams
This has a hold one me. Discussed here.

Have a great new year, everyone, full of books, movies, shows, songs (and anything else you enjoy) that gladden your hearts!

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Show Case

Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Legion (S2)

You might remember or not but I was really impressed with the first season of Legion. The second… Well…

Legion (S2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: IMDb

What it is:
David and his mutant buddies are now working with the government organization which tried to kill them in the previous season. Shadow King is looking for his body. Syd from the future tries to change the past. There might be a plague? Black-goo aliens? Also, educational videos. Also, also: cows.

How I found it:
I was a fan of season one.

Summary judgment:
It’s like jazz. Ambitious and you know someone is enjoying it, but that someone is not me.

Best things about it:
It remains an ambitious show which looks beautiful. You just know somebody is planning every detail of every scene and working hard to come up with striking visuals. The form of this show leaves nothing to complain about.

Worst things about it:
But it is so much style over substance. After a while you realize you just won’t be getting answers and resign yourself to a numb admiration of the show’s prettiness. While some stories get resolved, most of them leave the viewer hanging (the cows? the chickens?) and I finished the season with a vague feeling of wasted time. (I’m not a fan of artsy cinema though. Fair disclosure.)

Other pluses:
✤ The storylines which do get resolved work well enough, I suppose, though they take their sweet time to reach a conclusion.
✤ I liked how some of the episodes tried more gimmicky structure, particularly the one with the mystery of Syd’s mind (maybe less so the one with alternate realities but it still felt more structured than most of the regular episodes).
✤ Most of the actors still do a great job, they just often don’t have much to do.

Other minuses:
✤ Mostly, the season bored me: it took such a long time to do anything. It felt like the creators focused so much on how everything looked that they forgot about the satisfaction one could get from the story.
✤ Too much of the story was surreal and followed some sort of dream logic – and when anything goes, the stakes drop.

How it enriched my life:
It helped pass the evenings when I was waiting for childbirth. But as I was watching it after The Magicians, I felt acutely the lack of avid interest.

Follow-up:
I’m not decided about the third season but I’ll probably end up watching it anyway. However, I’m not sure it’s possible to build this show around a villainous David so unless it’s a story of redemption, I don’t see how it could work.

Recommended for:
People who thought the first season was too straightforward to enjoy.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Next time: Longbourn

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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 finds 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 them not only combined but also from a (sort of) adult perspective.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Arthur & George

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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

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