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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Good Place

It took me a while to see the show despite the impressive people involved in its production but I’m now up to date and we can talk (with spoilers! if you don’t know the big twist and don’t want to, please don’t read on)

er-thegoodplace1The Good Place (season 1)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
It’s like that Sartre play No Exit, except bubbly, funny and colorful. (And this was a spoiler, of course.) A bunch of people end up in the afterlife, which turns out to be very different from what they expected, but against all odds they manage to evolve and build relationships. It’s created by Michael Shur, of Parks and Recreation fame, and Kristen Bell stars as Eleanor, a truly awful person who learns to be not necessarily good, more like human.

How I found it:
I saw a trailer before it started and I really didn’t like it. I thought the jokes simplistic and couldn’t imagine how they would keep up the premise in any interesting way at all.

Summary judgment:
It surprised me! While it’s not as funny as Parks and Rec, it’s funny enough but, most of all, the ongoing arc turns out really interesting.

Best things about it:
It’s a smart show, with little ongoing jokes and meaningful background details. It’s got a consistent visual style that is pleasant to watch with the bright colors and the theatrical artifice. The actors are great and make you slowly learn to like the characters. But most of all, while it has a lot of funny ideas, it also manages to get you invested in the long-term story.

Worst things about it:
You really need to wait through the first two episodes or so to become invested in the characters because Eleonor is truly awful at first and impossible to root for. Luckily, the episodes are short and the whole thing quite breezy so in no time you find yourself excited about the developments.

Other pluses:
✤ It doesn’t fall flat on its not-that-exciting premise and finds new things to do with it. In this it differs from most “Status Quo Is God” sitcoms.
✤ It has so many quotable lines though I will need to re-watch it to cite anything specific.
✤ I enjoyed Adam Scott’s appearance so much, especially because he was so different from Ben. I hope to see more Parks and Rec alumni in the future.

Other minuses:
✤ Sometimes the philosophical part is a bit clunky, especially when the shows is trying (?) to teach the viewers about the studies of morality. But that didn’t really bother me, to be honest.
✤ Not all the characters work for me equally well. I’m not a fan of Jason’s because the idiot trope is one I don’t generally care for.

How it enriched my life:
It was fun to watch and made me think more than I ever did about the concept of frozen yoghurt.

Fun fact:
I knew the big twist that happens in the end of the season from the very beginning but it still didn’t affect my pleasure in watching. In fact, it mattered very little to know about “the bad place” and it might’ve made the whole thing less flat.

Follow-up:
I will watch season two with my husband, who got interested in the show after looking over my shoulder for a while and scoffing that I’m wasting time. And then we’ll probably re-watch the first season that he partly missed.

Recommended for:
People who still miss Veronica Mars and/or Parks and Recreation. People who like their eschatological ruminations kept light.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Loving Vincent, maybe

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Lost in Austen

In this year that unexpectedly seems to happen under the banner of Pride and Prejudice, here’s another thing for (non-orthodox) fans of the book, a miniseries called

er-lostinaustenLost in Austen

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
A 2008 4-part miniseries about Amanda Price, a lover of Pride in Prejudice, who discovers the door to the Bennets’ house in her own bathroom (yep) and changes places with Elizabeth. While Amanda tries to save the story she loves, she’s doing a perplexingly bad job of it and changes everybody’s fate, including her own. (She marries Darcy, guys – spoiler.)

How I found it:
I don’t remember. I watched it for the first time many years ago, sick in bed, if I recall.

Summary judgment:
I can see why it rubs some Austen fans the wrong way but I enjoy it: it’s modern and cheeky.

Best things about it:
It captures some of the magic of the original, while remaining quite irreverent. It reinterprets all the characters, giving them different motivations and it also looks good. And it’s simply fun to watch.

Worst things about it:
There is actually only one thing that doesn’t work for me in the story: Amanda. For someone who obsessively re-reads Pride and Prejudice she seems inexplicably unaware of the taboos of Regency society (or, really, any pre-modern society) and insists on behaving in a vulgar way. The way she looks doesn’t help: I wish she had slightly more natural hair and didn’t wear make-up when living with the Bennets (how does she even do that?). It’s hard to suspend disbelief and understand how someone who must look like a prostitute to the locals would be received in society.
And you know, I see the attraction of clashing Austenian society with someone who brings with them twentieth-century values, maybe even showing Amanda that her idealization of Elizabeth’s world was excessive… But for all of that to work Amanda would have to be smarter and subtler. It seems like a wasted opportunity.

Other pluses:
Wickham as a decent person, Caroline as a lesbian, Mrs. Bennet as someone much more skilled at the game of husband-hunting… I like all these tweaks. I even like Lizzie as a modern woman.

Other minuses:
✤ While I like most of the ideas for changes in the characters, I can’t get behind this Darcy. Yes, he looks fine, except for the bad wig. He looks even finer in the wet shirt. But what a mess he is! I don’t understand his sudden attraction to the vulgar girl who comes out of nowhere – it’s as if he preferred Lydia to Lizzie in the book. Most of his decisions make no sense and the love affair seems to happen only because it needs to in every proper fan fiction ever, which this show is, after all.
✤ On that note, everything could have been salvaged with another ending: Amanda chooses Wickham or even to return to her world. But this forced “will they, won’t they” culminating in a weird marriage didn’t work for me.

How it enriched my life:
It’s an entertaining piece of entertainment to entertain one and it also makes me think whether I’d do any better in Regency England but I would probably be too horrified at the lack of dental hygiene. Also, I can’t curtsy, let alone ballroom-dance.

Fun fact:
So yes, I didn’t know people used to rub chalk across their teeth to clean them and whatever else Amanda was brought. Though I do know other things people used (or still use), including salt, baking soda and some kinds of tree twigs. History of hygiene is a fascinating subject, actually, and reveals how much stuff we take for granted though we shouldn’t.

Follow-up:
I will probably re-watch this show some time because it’s fun. I would also watch any similar thing though it would likely disappoint me.

Recommended for:
Jane Austen fans who are not too hung up on the original. People who didn’t read the book at all but think it’s a funny concept to transport a modern character into a book.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Speaking of books, I Am Charlotte Simmons

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: The Mindy Project

This is an impromptu, unscheduled review (yes, there is a schedule) to celebrate the ending of one of my favorite TV series in the past six years. I will probably re-watch it and talk about all the seasons separately but for now let’s just talk about all of

er-themindyprojectThe Mindy Project

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Hulu

What it is:
A rom-com, sit-com, workplace-com unlike any other I’ve ever seen. It tells a story of Mindy Lahiri, a NY Indian American ob-gyn in search of love and of some fun, too, as she goes through innumerable inappropriate boyfriends and situations to end up with the one we always wanted her to end up with.

How I found it:
I started watching it back when I would watch pretty much anything new because I got interested in the trailer and something about this show immediately spoke to me, even though I’m normally not a sit-com kind of person.

Summary judgment:
I think it’s pretty obvious by now I love Mindy.

Best things about it:
It’s got a unique, light-hearted, unapologetic tone, which is very much like its heroine, Mindy, who pretty much redefines the feminine woman. I was so invested in the central love affair with Danny Castellano because – at least until they make him into a chauvinistic monster for a while – Chris Messina’s Danny sells everything he does as irresistible. And the show is really funny in a surprising way, not like most half-hour comedies in which you see all the jokes coming a mile away.

Worst things about it:
The show does have an inconsistency problem, with dropped storylines, not enough running jokes and disappearing characters.

Other pluses:
Mindy gave us Morgan played by Ike Barinholtz, and he’s comedy gold. Some other supporting actors work wonderfully, too, particularly Adam Pally, but it’s Morgan who’s the heart of the show.
✤ The deadpan way in which the characters react to one another’s quirks creates an atmosphere of universal acceptance. Always makes me feel better.
✤ So. Many. Wonderful one liners.
✤ And so many wonderful guest stars and recurring guest stars. My favorite by far are the Duplass brothers as holistic midwives.

Other minuses:
That time when Chris Messina wanted to do other stuff and so they made his character terrible and then that time when he went to do something else and his character wasn’t on the show at all.

How it enriched my life:
It made me so happy. It also made me laugh a lot and smile even more and gave me a few lines that I still use every now and then.

Fun fact:
When I was watching the first season for a while I used to immediately re-watch an episode right after I watched it for the first time.

Follow-up:
I sense many big re-watches in the future and probably reviewing every single season, too.

Recommended for:
Hm, this is a bit hard. People looking for intelligent comedy that’s not afraid to be quirky but also very feminine? I’d say at least some fans of Sex and the City though it’s by no means the same kind of thing.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Jonathan Strange, it’s scheduled

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S5)

So this is how it ends. After devoted viewing through the entire show I’ve arrived at the last season and the grand finale of Orphan Black. (Spoilers, probably.)

er-orphanblack5Orphan Black (season 5)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
In the conclusion of the clone saga Sarah and her family need to face the last standing villains and then deal with the fallout as they embark on their normal lives again.

How I found it:
Naturally.

Summary judgment:
Endings are never as good as beginnings but this is as good as it gets.

Best things about it:
The story ends completely, without irritating hanging threads. Our beloved characters get a well-deserved send-off and, best of all, it’s mostly a happy ending. I love those.

Worst things about it:
I wasn’t such a big fan of the Moreau island. It didn’t interest me visually (though the Victorian mansion was a nice touch) nor dramatically and things picked up once everyone returned to the city.

Other pluses:
Till the very end Tatiana Maslany astounds. Just think about the childbirth scene or the motherly confessions.
✤ The episode with Felix’s art opening is brilliantly emotional, and not just because it prepares the viewer for S’s death. This show is always at its best when it contrasts the clones’ adventures with regular social gatherings. Remember Alison’s pot luck?
✤ I like how they show a different body type with Donnie and wish they did this with women, too.

✤ Even with the high stakes of the finale the show remembers to have fun.

Other minuses:
The villains remain unexciting.

How it enriched my life:
It’s time to speak of the show as a whole here: it definitely gave me hours of quality entertainment, deeply humanist storytelling and wonder. It’s one of better shows I’ve ever seen.

Fun fact:
I kept having to remind myself not to watch during breakfast because I always worried there might be a beheading of a swan coming or something unappetizing like that. But I really wanted to watch at breakfast!

Follow-up:
This story is such a complete work and I enjoy it so much that I’m sure to return to it once the details of the plot get blurrier in my memory. There are also comics and I might check them out though from what I’ve seen the art is not the kind I enjoy.

Recommended for:
Everyone who needs their clone story completed.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Thor Ragnarok – it’s high time

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S4)

As I’ve decided to possibly see Thor: Ragnarok once more, the review will show up next week and before then let’s just finish the rest of Orphan Black, shall we? Season four gets good again, too.

er-orphanblack4Orphan Black (season 4)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah and her sisters face completely new villains (again) but at least we’re back to the scientific backbone of the story and no more forays into the military. We learn more about the background of Beth’s suicide and the stakes get raised yet again. Also, so many bugs.

How I found it:
Easily.

Summary judgment:
Orphan Black gets good again – so good, at least season two good or maybe better.

Best things about it:
It’s a welcome return to form with only one Castor left and the focus back on the ethics of science. I loved Beth’s flashbacks! They really fleshed out both the character and the whole story – and allowed for showing some of the old favorites who’ve left the show. And, within the same spirit, the episode showing Sarah in her old environments and her old self-destructive habits is also strong. This gives season four some of the intimacy of season one.

Worst things about it:
The villain-an-episode routine gets a bit old. So now it’s Evie, now it’s some boring cop, now it’s another spoiler… none of them interesting. I never care about villains too much but I’m beginning to miss Leekie after two seasons of random search for someone who would stick.

Other pluses:
Unlike previously, new characters add to the story and gel well with the rest of the cast. (Mostly.) MK is cool and so is Adele. I’m not a huge fan of Krystal but Tatiana Maslany must be having fun playing her.

Other minuses:
It continues being uncomfortable to watch at times for its graphic scenes, especially those including deformed babies. I imagine for people with any particular dislike to bugs this must be even harder to watch than for a casual viewer.

How it enriched my life:
I spent an exciting Sunday binge-watching the whole thing.

Fun fact:
When I choose an outfit now I wonder which clone’s style it would match the most – and it’s usually a mix of Beth and Cosima, with some Sarah thrown in. So it’s a thing now for me.

Follow-up:
I’m so excited for season 5, and sad that it will be the last one.

Recommended for:
Fans of the show who didn’t drop it during season three (and those who did should also try returning) and don’t have entomophobia. Not for new parents, I think.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: The grand finale

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S3)

In my recent re-watch of Orphan Black I have arrived at the last season I’d already seen, and definitely my least favorite so far. Let’s talk season three (find one and two here).

er-orphanblack3Orphan Black (season 3)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
We deal with the fallout of the last season… Oh, there will be spoilers, maybe more than usual. You’ve been warned. So Helena is kidnapped by the creepy military, Sarah tries to rescue her and the obnoxious male clones run rampant. Meantime Alison and Cosima are having their own crises, loosely related to the rest of the story.

How I found it:
Not really a question since I was already invested after the first two seasons.

Summary judgment:
As I said, it’s my least favorite so far – but still better than so much TV.

Best things about it:
The story continues and it’s never boring. In fact, it takes you along on a pretty crazy ride. Tatiana Maslany gets even more challenging things to do, as if she hadn’t already proven she’s superhuman, and there’s no more doubt that Helena is awesome.

Worst things about it:
Well, this season is a bit of a mess. I hate the military base: it’s visually boring, full of unnecessary violence and, maybe worst of all, makes the show go artsy, what with all the visions and hallucinations. No, actually, worst of all, they kill Paul, having established him as a positive hero once and for all, and I’ll never forgive them.
And I hate the male clones. Honestly, this is such a redundant idea and I’m sure the actor who plays them is as talented as he is sculpted but it only shows that what Maslany is doing is not a casual acting feat. The writers try to make it easier on the actor by making most of the male clones the same but the over-the-top insane woman-abuser act remains cringeworthy. I’m glad Castors seem on the way out at the end of the season.

Other pluses:
✤ Some new characters, while it’s debatable if necessary at all, are certainly well cast.
✤ I like the simple use of different color filters to differentiate between the locations.
✤ I like the more subtle character storylines, like Delphine’s arc. I mean, that bug was a definition of subtle, huh.

Other minuses:
 The first part of the season resembles a slasher movie with characters constantly sneaking up on one another and hurting each other in gruesome ways. There’s so much visual violence (sometimes as actual violence, sometimes as medical procedures but all of them very graphic) as if the creators wanted to make the show uncomfortable to watch.
✤ Too many new characters that bring little to the story but steal screen time away from the actual stars.
✤ Alison’s story runs separately from the rest of them, like a lost script for Desperate Housewives, and while it’s not a bad storyline by itself, it clashes a little with the rest. I also don’t like the conclusion with Helena single-handedly destroying the Portuguese mob (which, what?) like a Valkyrie-ex-machina. To be clear, I don’t mind the mob gone.

How it enriched my life:
I didn’t remember most of this season so it was actually very interesting to watch and I went through it within two days or so.

Fun fact:
I love Helena’s way of speaking. Almost makes me want to speak so badly if it comes with so much sass.

Follow-up:
Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who want to know the story. People who thought the previous seasons didn’t show enough blood and wounds.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Next time: We press on – or else I’ll manage to squeeze in the new Thor

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Mildly Enthusiastic Review: Orphan Black (S2)

My re-watch of Orphan Black continues with season 2. The first time I watched it, soon after the stellar first season (read about it here), it was a bit of a letdown. This time I think I liked it more.

er-orphanblack2Orphan Black (season 2)

Category: TV shows

Find it on: Amazon

What it is:
Sarah’s fight for control over her life continues with the villains now better-defined. Both the evil corporation Dyad and the group of religious freaks want to use the clones for their sinister ends and for most of the season the characters try to escape or outsmart them. Or just burn them to the ground.

How I found it:
Once I watched the first season I couldn’t wait for the second one.

Summary judgment:
It’s better than I remembered it, even if it couldn’t remain as good as the first one.

Best things about it:
With the main characters in place the show may now focus on deepening the relations between them and despite many action sequences it actually manages to spend a lot of time on the people. It throws them into new configurations – like Alison and Vic, Art and Helena etc. – shining new light on all of them and allowing for many delightful comedic moments. It’s not just about Sarah this time: Helena, Cosima and Alison, even Mrs. S are all served right with their storylines.

Worst things about it:
It’s usually the case that when you build an intriguing mystery, whatever answer you provide has to be a bit disappointing. And it doesn’t help how convoluted and vague our answers are (and from what I remember season three doesn’t improve on that). A lot is happening and sometimes I wasn’t even sure who was on which side anymore but I didn’t much care because I really wanted to see more Alison drinking and Sarah bonding with her baby daddy. It’s too bad that my favorite part of the first season, namely the personal stories of the clones, slowly begins to compete with the bigger picture for the screen time.

Other pluses:
✤ I don’t think I mentioned it before but this show is so impressive in how it puts multiple Tatianas on-screen at the same time! In fact, the dancing scene was plain showing off, with all of them dancing together, each one differently. But usually it’s done so naturally you don’t even think about the technical difficulties.
✤ Cal is alright. I used to be very Team Paul during the first watch but now I can see Cal’s probably a better choice (so far).
✤ Winter looks both pretty and realistically depressing in this season.

Other minuses:
✤ Ugh, Rachel, and all of the institute, particularly Daniel reaaaally get on my nerves. I know it’s villains’ job but they are just – too good at it.
✤ This season introduces many new characters but most of them feel superfluous and way less interesting than our previous stars. Case in point: the new clone, I don’t see a reason for introducing Tony, except that everyone wanted to see what else Tatiana Maslany could do?
✤ I know it’s only starting this season but can we please not do the male clones? No? Okay, we’ll get back to this.

How it enriched my life:
I watched it so fast, stealing time from other duties. Such a good show.

Fun fact:
So, I caught a cold – again, this time from my son – and that’s why I managed to watch the show so quickly. (I know this barely classifies as a fun fact but I’m trying.)

Follow-up:
Season 3, again. Season 4. Season 5.

Recommended for:
People who loved the first season. People who loved it but thought that maybe there was too little of evil corporations, sinister military or too few characters altogether.

Enjoyment:
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Next time: Dangerous Liaisons

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