Category Archives: Netflix

Star Trek Discovery Review

Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Mary Wiseman, Antony Rapp and Michelle Yeoh.

Contains Minor Spoilers

It’s not been the best year for Sci-Fi on TV. Doctor Who’s run was distinctly average, Red Dwarf has only given us 1 good episode from 4 so far and then there’s Star Trek Discovery, whose opening episodes have majorly disappointed me.

I only got into Star Trek recently, thanks mainly to Netflix who put all 5 (The Original Series, Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise) live action Star Trek shows on its roster last year. I watched Voyager’s entire run and loved it, and I’ve delved into one or two of Next Gen’s episodes (mainly the ones with the Borg or Q) and enjoyed them. So when Netflix debuted a brand new Star Trek series with modern effects and a cast featuring a couple of famous faces, I thought I’d give it a go. I wish I hadn’t.

It does look brilliant. We’re talking cinematic level quality here. Netflix clearly spent a lot of money on this. A big space battle in episode 2 is up there with the kind of fights we’ve got from the Guardians of the Galaxy movies. The direction isn’t bad either, and the action scenes in general are high quality. But now I start running out of positives. There are several things which will annoy existing Star Trek fans, such as the utterly pointless redesign of the Klingons and how much more advanced the technology looks than the previous star trek series (which considering this is a prequel to every series but Enterprise is a bit stupid). But these are minor issues compared to the big one. The series’ tone and characters completely suck. It tries to be very dark and gritty, which is never what Star Trek has been about. The whole Klingon-Federation war which drives the shows plotline doesn’t really work because of the shows prequel status (i.e. you know the humans and their allies won’t lose, so the stakes are limited to the survival of the main cast). Sure, the TV series and movies occasionally veer into very dark territory, but normally as a exception to the more usual fun and hopeful vibe they have. Discovery is so concerned with putting flawed characters in morally compromised, depressing situations that it completely forgets to have any fun. (I.e. they went the Batman vs. Superman route when they should have been going for a Rogue One kind of tone). The characters don’t help matters either.

Sonequa Martin-Green isn’t a bad actor, but most Star Trek series hinge a lot on their lead, and Human/Vulcan hybrid Michael Burnham just isn’t interesting enough as a character to merit being a series lead. She lacks the likeability and charm of a Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Janeway, and to be honest, Vulcans are always pretty dull characters to focus on in Star Trek, so having a Vulcanized Human as the lead was probably never a good idea (Spock and Tuvok had their moments, but there’s not a lot of places you can take people who have such a limited emotional range).

The support cast aren’t much better. Jason Isaacs gets stuck in a pretty clichéd and thankless role as Captain Lorca, Doug Jones fails to give you any reason to care about Saru, and Antony Rapp’s engineer sucks the joy out of every scene he’s in. Mary Wiseman is the lone exception, as her perky, optimistic character offers much needed light relief. Unfortunately, she has no one similar to bounce off and this limits how well her character works. Michelle Yeoh is the best thing about the cast, but as a recurring guest star isn’t heavily enough involved to make much of a difference.

The Klingon sections also grow tiresome, mainly because the one Klingon with any screen presence is killed off early in the shows run, leaving a load of inadequate stand in villains to step in for the rest of the run. There’s no Worf or B’Elanna to give the Klingons a sympathetic face, and that makes the whole Federation-Klingon war a very one-sided affair.

After 4 episodes, I ran out of both enthusiasm and patience. Even though the individual episodes were relatively engaging, the overall plotline and cast weren’t. I’ve given up because I didn’t see any reason to persevere (normally I give a new show 5 episodes to prove itself, but this one showed so little potential I couldn’t be bothered). I started watching Deep Space Nine instead, and even though the first series of that show is a VERY mixed bag in terms of quality, the characters are engaging enough and the show delivered enough good episodes with the bad that I’ve stuck with it.

To sum up: if you have Netflix and want to try Star Trek, don’t bother with Discovery. Go watch Next Gen, DS9 or Voyager instead (or even the Original Series or Enterprise if your feeling brave). Discovery isn’t just bad Sci-fi, its bad Sci-Fi which barely qualifies as Star Trek. Honestly haven’t been this disappointed with Netflix before. The show may improve, but frankly, I’m not interested enough in its plot or characters to care.

Rating: 2 out of 5 (Lowest Series rating I’ve ever given).

Also: blandest Star Trek theme tune ever? Its just downright dull compared to the epic, mysterious or triumphant themes the other shows (and films) have.

 

 

 

Advertisements

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I only did a top 5 last year but I felt I’d watched considerably more this time, so a top 10 seemed more appropriate.

Minor spoilers for all shows – no real specifics though, don’t worry.

10. Gotham (Season 2 Part 2/Season 3 Part 1) Gotham has often been considered the problem child of the DC universe – it isn’t part of the Arrowverse or the movies and thus sits awkwardly in the middle. Its tone tends to be wildly uneven – one episode gave us the hilariously OTT ending of Butch blowing up a villain with a Bazooka while another had the incredibly tense sequence where the Mad Hatter forced Jim to choose which of his two love interests was shot. However, this year has seen arguably its best run of episodes yet, with a superb Mr. Freeze origin story, a very sweet romance between the teenage Bruce and Selina, a great main villain in season 3 in the Mad Hatter and the winning combination of Penguin and Riddler, who are arguably the best villains on any superhero show right now. The show has miss-stepped a fair few times (the godawful Gordon in prison episode, two lacklustre season finales) but overall its showing great promise, and the first six episodes of season 3 were simply amazing.

9. The Grand Tour (Series 1) Clarkson, Hammond and May’s return may be a mixed bag of the hilarious and the cringe worthy, but overall its been a very welcome addition as well as the main reason to fork out for Amazon Prime. There’s been a few duff moments (particularly in the second episode ‘Operation Desert Stumble) but overall its given us all of the comedy, cars and catastrophe we wanted. It goes without saying, its completely trounced (and savagely mocked) the travesty/pile of excrement which was the Chris Evans version. Serves the BBC right.

8. IZombie (Season 2 Part 2) Anyone who’s not tried IZombie due to the stupid sounding title should really give it a second thought. The unique plotline it has (Zombies gain temporary memories/personality traits from the brains they eat, which allows main character Liv to solve the murders of people who end up in the morgue she works in) really opens up a wealth of storytelling potential, while also leading to some great comedy (the episodes where Liv eats the brain of an erotic novelist spring to mind, though there’s plenty of others with great comedy from similar ideas). The second half of season two in particular ramps up the drama element as more of the main cast find out about Liv’s true nature and the company that created the Zombie outbreak comes under the spotlight. Roll on season 3!

7. The Great British Bake Off (The final series that anyone will bother watching) Second only to the terrible Top Gear reboot in the list of BBC cock-ups this year was the loss of Bake Off to Channel 4 (seriously, who the fuck will watch it with no Mel, Sue, Mary as well as having to put up with sodding ad-breaks). I may have been a late-comer to the series, but the sheer charm of it all won me over and as it is it’s unofficial swansong, I thought i’d include it in my list. Full of the brilliant Mel/Sue interplay with the contestants, lavish desserts and culinary disasters (Andrew forgetting to put the oven on was hilarious) it also gave us a real character in Selasi (to cool to put into words) contestants who were easy to root for in Andrew and Benjamina and my personal favourite, pout-queen Candice Brown (too sweet for words – simply adored her!). This series was the perfect send off to a teatime treat of a show.

6. Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1 Part 2/Season 2 Part 1) The Arrow/Flash spinoff took a few episodes to get going in 2015, but it blew it out of the park in 2016 and surpassed both its parent shows (I sense a pattern emerging – expect Supergirl to be high on this list next year!). The first season gave us a thrilling climax as the team contended with the time masters and Vandal Savage, and the second gave us one of the best supervillain team ups in history as Malcolm Merlyn, the Reverse Flash and Damien Darhk joined forces (Legion of Doom!!!) It also has some of the most colourful characters from the Arrowverse in anti-heroes Snart and Mick (Captain Cold and Heatwave), Captain Rip played by Rory from Doctor Who!! (usually amusingly muttering ‘oh bloody hell…’ as the teams plans fall apart every week) and Sara/White Canary, who continues to be one of my favourite superhero characters (who else can seduce both the Queen of France and girls in Salem in the same episode? Her becoming temporary captain also really gave her character some great material this year. A very silly superhero show, but isn’t that just what we need after 2016?

5. Black Mirror (Series 3) The first of 3 Netflix series in my top 5, Black Mirror’s move from channel 4 to Netflix looks increasingly inspired. Not only has it got rid of ad-breaks and freed up the episodes running time, but increasing the series length to 6 episodes seems to have improved the quality rather than detracted from it. Even weaker episodes like ‘Playtest’ are still worth watching, while there’s some classically dark instalments with clever stings in the tail like ‘Shut Up and Dance’, for those who want more of what series 1 and 2 gave us, as well as new concepts and episode formats. The highlight for me, has to be ‘San Junipero’, sad and heartwarming in equal measure and a very neat sci-fi idea. Overall though, its a sublime run of episodes and well worth your time.

4. Game of Thrones (Season 6) Thrones might not have had a particularly consistent run of episodes (a real slow-burner mid-season with a bit too much padding, particularly in the Arya and King’s Landing storylines) but who cares when it still gave us exactly what we wanted in a kick-ass and explosive finale, a scintillating clash between Jon Snow and Ramsay, Daenerys being awesome for the first time in a while and the sheer horror of the white walkers attack leading to the tearjerking ‘Hold the Door’ moment. If season 7 can keep up the work of episodes like ‘Home’, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ or ‘The Winds of Winter’, then we’re sitting pretty for a thrilling penultimate series.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 4) Orange is the New Black has got stronger every season and the fourth series doesn’t buck the trend. Despite being arguably one of the darkest series we’ve had from the scriptwriters, it balanced comedy and tragedy as effectively as ever. Any series that combines tear-jerking mental health plotlines and that horrifying twist at the end of episode 12 with laugh out loud moments such as the unlikeliest threesome probably ever seen on TV (I won’t spoil it, its so much better if you aren’t expecting it) is clearly onto a winner. Well done OITNB, yet again you’ve been one of the Netflix highlights this year. Just not as good as…

2. House of Cards (Season 4) After a mixed third season, House of Cards turned things around and delivered what may be its best season so far. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s acting was first class as always, but this time the writing was on par with their performances as the shows version of the US presidential election provided great drama and plenty of shock narrative twists. The way they utilised characters from previous seasons like ex-president Walker, Lucas Goodwin and Raymond Tusk was both expertly done and a real treat for long-term fans. I’ll credit them for not simply caricaturing Trump and Clinton either, instead giving us Joel Kinnaman’s Republican candidate Will Conway who seems like the ideal potential president, but has weaknesses/flaws that become apparent over the season, and was a far more engaging type of figure for Francis to face off with as he was continually at a PR disadvantage. Bring on season 5!

1.The Americans (Season 4) The most consistent series on television was a stand-out this year as the Russian spy pair/American married couple dealt with more problems than ever before as their lives increasingly teetered on the edge of unravelling. Dylan Baker was the stand-out guest star as a Soviet sympathiser working in an American viral lab, while the main cast was as great as ever, particularly Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Frank Langella and Alison Wright. The Jennings had to deal with their daughter’s struggle to accept their true identity, the loss of one of their closest informants and missions they worth becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. A slightly lacklustre season finale aside, it was a flawless run with several shock character exits and plot twists, can’t wait for the final two seasons of this thrilling if slow-burning drama.

Missing out on the list was Arrow (still rebuilding after a so-so year), Flash (ditto, Zoom was the most disappointing villain I’ve seen from DC’s TV universe), Red Dwarf (promising but not back to its best yet) and Jessica Jones (too much padding). There are some shows I haven’t got round to watching yet (Supergirl and Westworld for example) and some I just don’t watch (like Walking Dead).

As for the disappointments of the year, my worst offenders have to be the Chris Evans Top Gear (for obvious reasons – what a TWAT!), Doctor Who spin-off Class (very pointless – even Torchwood Series 1 was less awkward) and Luke Cage, which completely wasted its potential and contrived to make sure whichever style of show you like, you would hate half the season. (Congrats Marvel, you have made something worse than Agents of Shield… can’t you just give us Jessica Jones season 2 already?!)

My TV Awards 2016

Best Actor: Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Best Supporting Actor: David Tennant (Jessica Jones)
Best Supporting Actress: Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black)
Best Episode: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones)
Best Hero: Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain: Ramsay Snow (Game of Thrones)
Best Scripting: The Americans
Best Direction: Black Mirror
Best Soundtrack: Game of Thrones

If you’ve got your own list or disagree with mine, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year!

Jessica Jones: Season 1 Review

Starring Krysten Ritter and David Tennant

Looking for a quick Netflix binge or a new superhero fix? Jessica Jones might be just what you’re looking for…

Warning: Minor spoilers!

Marvel might have stolen a march on DC in film since the Dark Knight Trilogy, but thanks to Arrow, Flash, Gotham and Supergirl, DC’s pretty much owned the TV side of things. Or at least, it did whilst it’s only competition was the by-the-numbers and underperforming Agents of Shield. But Marvel has struck back. Agent Carter, Daredevil and Jessica Jones are three Marvel shows that have received critical acclaim, and as I had some time on my hands this summer, I decided to check them out, starting with Jessica Jones.

Jessica Jones isn’t your standard superhero TV show. She doesn’t wear a costume, have an alter-ego or superhero name, and the shows much more psychological than action-packed, and has a very noir feel, emphasised by the trippy opening titles and unusual, jazzy soundtrack. Jessica has some classic superhero powers (namely super-strength) but the show avoids the usual cliché of having a villain with similar powers for her origin story or first onscreen outing (aka like Superman and General Zod, Iron Man and Iron Monger, Green Arrow and Malcolm Merlyn etc.).

Instead we get Kilgrave (David Tennant) who might just be the most unsettling villain I’ve seen since the J0ker. His powers? Mind-control. He can compel others to do anything – be it throw coffee in their own face, kill someone they love or jump off a rooftop. Very few superpowered villains are terrifying simply by the nature of their powers – Kilgrave is an exception. Having a super-strong heroine go up against a villain who can effectively turn anyone in the whole city, her closest friends or even herself against her leads to a very tense 13 episodes. That said, he isn’t an entirely unsympathetic villain, his motivation and his past, once later episodes shed light on them, spark some pity for the man, helped in part by Tennant’s marvellous performance.

The acting in general is superb, Ritter makes Jessica a very complex heroine to root for – you won’t agree with everything she does in her quest to catch Kilgrave. The supporting cast all shine, particularly Carrie-Anne Moss as ruthless lawyer Jeri and Mike Colter as fellow superhuman Luke Cage.

The show as a whole is very dark – dealing with very adult topics such as suicide, rape, abortion and PTSD – sometimes you forget this is a superhero drama – anyone who wants the happy go-lucky feel of Marvel films, go somewhere else – this is properly compelling drama that only Winter Soldier and Civil War have come close to delivering. It has it’s lighter moments, particularly in the opening episodes, but overall this is something of an emotional roller-coaster.

So far all good. Issues? Well the show has a few. It’s 13 episode run-time feels undeserved – a few unnecessary plot developments could have been scrapped a delivered a much tighter 10 episode run. Will Simpson, a love interest of Jess’ surrogate sister Trish, has a plotline that really drags in the second half of the season, and even though it’s obviously setting something up for a second season it detracts from the main plot too much to have been necessary. The final showdown between Jess and Kilgrave is satisfying to watch but predictable. In general though, it was a solid first season and a sign that on TV at least, Marvel is willing to take risks with it’s storyline and characters.

Overall: Murky morals, an unsettling villain and a conflicted heroine makes this compelling viewing. It’s not a smash hit and won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but its very much worth a look.

Season Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (would have been 4/5 if it hadn’t dragged out the story too long)

Reviews coming soon: iZombie – season 1 review, followed by Suicide Squad, Orange is the New Black Season 4 and iZombie season 2!