What I Watched October 2019

Movies

Joker – read review here. **

El Camino – I’ll be honest; I haven’t gotten all the way through Breaking Bad. I don’t really have an excuse. I did have the end spoiled for me (I guess I really spoiled it for myself). This is not really a movie event, but a double episode coda tacked on to the end of the show. An excellently shot and written modern day western that only really works as a goodbye to a character people already love. It is incredible for what it is. ****1/2

Maleficent: Mistress of Evil – read review here. **1/2

The Laundromat – I don’t understand why reviews for this film have been so mixed. I loved how it mixed the fun, glib explanations by Gary Oldman and Antonio Banderas with the real showing of how these schemes affect real people. The first stuff is enjoyable, but it becomes infuriating as it becomes clear that the crooks are going to get away with it and keep getting away with it. *****

Addams Family read review here. ***

Gemini Man read review here. **1/2

Missing Link – I am really sorry I missed this in theaters earlier this year. I loved Laika’s last movie, Kubo and the Two Strings. This one is just as strong. It looks gorgeous. It tells a great story about wanting to belong. I just loved everything about it. *****

The Current War – read review here. ***

Dolemite is My Name – This movie does just about everything right. Good performances, especially from Eddie Murphy and Wesley Snipes. It is funny without ever really making fun of its subject. It is loving, but not reverent. Just a lot of fun. ****1/2

Mission of Honor – A perfectly fine WWII movie about (mostly) Polish fighter pilots in Great Britain during the second world war. Personally, I love scenes of propeller planes, which was enough to get me past some of this film’s weaker dramatic points. It does end with a devastating kicker; after fighting to save the U.K., and their homeland, the Polish fighters are deported to their now communist home country, where they are not wanted or welcome. ***

Lord of the Rings The Two Towers – I don’t know when the last time I actually sat down and watched any of the The Lord of the Rings movies. I didn’t do it this time, either. I got interrupted about two thirds the way through this. The movie is still amazing. The special effects have aged, but they have aged better than you might think. I believe a structured rewatch is in my future. Not a marathon, but maybe seeing them over the course of a week or so. *****

TV

Undone – This is a hard show to describe. It is a trippy drama with sci-fi stuff that might or might not be real. Protagonist Alma is in a car accident and learns she can project her consciousness back through time. With the help of her dead father, possibly time traveling father she tries to unravel the mystery of his death. She also tries to deal with things happening to her in the moment, like her sister’s marriage to a man Alma doesn’t like or Alma’s dissatisfaction with her boyfriend. Underneath it all is the question of whether Alma actually has this time travel power, or whether it is a delusion caused by the accident. I was not a big fan of the rotoscope animation, but the show is really good.

Big Mouth S3 – This show continues to be strong, twitter controversy aside. I don’t mean to discount why people were mad, but that is one sour note in an otherwise excellent show. Big Mouth is a show that pushes boundaries in a way that seems really helpful to its supposed target audience. Though I would guess its target audience isn’t kids going through puberty, but people in their 20-30s remembering going through puberty. The show is doing a great job of widening its focus, especially as its two protagonists go down some pretty toxic roads. This is just a good show.

Goliath S3 – I wrote in my Carnival Row post that I had hopes that the third season of Goliath would fix a lot of the problems I had with season 2. Those hopes were misplaced. This season might not be quite as bad as the previous one, but it is still far from good. This season appears to be trying to be something like Twin Peaks as a legal drama. But it doesn’t do a great job of being Twin Peaks and it does an even worse job of being a legal drama. The courtroom stuff is almost completely an afterthought here. I like Billy Bob Thornton, but this show reeks of misplaced confidence. It doesn’t reek of desperation like some bad shows do, like it is flailing around trying to find what works; instead it feels like a show that is sure that it is working perfectly and is trying to stretch its legs a little, even though absolutely nothing it going right. It is a barely watchable mess. At least Dennis Quaid seemed like he had fun.

Modern Love – This is a real mixed bag. There are some great romantic stories here. There is also a couple of real creep shows. I don’t know, this didn’t really do anything for me, despite having some favorites, like Anne Hathaway and Tina Fey, show up and some actually very good episodes.

Carmen Sandiego S2 – I found this to be a big improvement over the first season. Mostly because it feels like it is doing less heavy lifting to set up its story and more just telling the story. It is still a cartoon for kids that focuses on geography and history. It is pretty fun.

Schitt’s Creek S5 – This show remains one of the strongest sitcoms around today. It had a kind of rocky start and still has a terrible title, but the show is good. I don’t have much specific to say, it remains funny and hits enough human moments to make you care. With Netflix losing pretty much every other easy watching staple in the near future, keeping this around would give them something.

CW DC Shows – I am going to write more about these when they go on winter hiatus, which is apparently halfway through the Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover. I’ll just say for now that it has been a good start. The Flash especially seems rejuvenated. Also, newcomer Batwoman is a lot of fun.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep8

Titans Season 2 Episode 8: “Jericho”

Jericho is an excellently executed episode that is unfortunately largely free of anything surprising or revelatory. That would not be a big deal, but the show has held back telling this portion of the story all season, alluding to the tragedy that happened with the Titans last tangled with Deathstroke, only to reveal to be exactly what one would expect.

Jericho takes place a few years in the past. After Deathstroke killed Aqualad, Dick forged a friendship with Deathstroke’s son, Jericho, to find him. The episode mostly focuses on its namesake, showing how is yearning for friendship brings him to the Titans. He tells his version of the story of who Deathstroke is while bonding with the team. Jericho has been through some stuff, including having his throat slit and being rendered mute. The Titans are uncomfortable using Jericho and are going to cut him loose. Then Dick learns of Jericho’s power. By making eye contact, he can possess another person, gaining complete physical control of them. This leads Dick to come clean with Jericho and invite him to join the Titans. At the same time, Deathstroke learns how the Titans are getting info on him and arranges to meet with his son to make peace. The other big revelation is who Deathstroke’s target was. It wasn’t Aqualad or Donna, but Donna’s Themyscrian protector. It all comes to a head in a rather predictable way that leaves the team completely shattered.

This is an episode where the characters’ motivations are as clear as they have been in some time. All of them want revenge for Aqualad, but their discomfort with deceiving Jericho is clear. As is Jericho’s devastation after learning that he has been lied to, both by the team and about his father.

For once, even Dove makes sense. Dove really has turned into the worst written character on this show. Most of the others have a clearly understandable position and arc. Hank/Hawk is a junkie, and his drug is being a superhero. He wants to do it so bad, but he knows keeping it up will kill him. His struggle is not jumping back into action as he so clearly desires to. Dick wants to save people, but he doesn’t want to be manipulative like Batman. However, acting like Batman is all he knows and he consistently falls short of his own standards. Dawn/Dove, though, is all over the map. Is she a junkie like Hank? Does she want to be a hero or leave that life behind? Who knows; it seems to change every episode. In the last flashback she told Dick to be Batman; in this one she says not to. Dick calls her out on this, but neither the character nor the show has a satisfying explanation. Dove, as originally conceived, was a superhero representing peace. Her arguing caution and peaceful solutions works. Her goading others into action or sneaking out to get some violence in does not. The character is just kind of a mess.

One odd touch is that Rose is not mentioned at all. She has made it clear that she knew her brother, but in none of the scenes featuring the Wilson family is she seen or even mentioned. It was only five years ago; she would have been ten years old. There are several possible explanations for this, from the pathetic, like is the show just decided not to show young Rose as a cost cutting measure because it would have required another actress, to the clever, like a reveal that Rose is not actually Rose Wilson, Deathstroke’s daughter. Maybe it was just a blind spot in the writing. Whatever the reason, it was notable.

I hope this is the end of the flashbacks and side stories. The show seems to have mostly dealt with the past and it has enough new stuff to deal with. It should be gearing up for the stretch run here. I have a feeling there is more to come though. Deathstroke is the big thread to resolve, but I am curious how deeply the show is going to delve into Conner or if it is going to go back to the Starfire thread it started the season with. What I really want to see is a deepening of relationships in the present; with as little time as the season has spent in the here and now, it feels like any sense of interpersonal dynamic on this team, as currently constituted has been lost.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 7

Titans Season 2 Episode 7: “Bruce Wayne”

Picking up where last episode, and the one before it, left off, “Bruce Wayne” starts with several problems. Deathstroke has escaped, the older team members are mad at Dick for changing the plan, the younger team members are upset at being left out, Jason is traumatized from almost being killed, and Conner is dying from being shot at the end of last episode.

This episode gives viewers the first good look at Titans’ Bruce Wayne. I’ve heard complaints about him, but I think he works. Iain Glenn does not present as imposing a Batman as we are used to, but that doesn’t mean he can’t make for a good one. In this episode, he comes off as something like an Adam West or Roger Moore as James Bond; a little jokey, jovial. It might not be the right fit for this show, which seems consistently mired in humorlessness, but it worked in this episode, especially as Bruce’s job was to be the voice in Dick’s head. Throughout the episode, Bruce follows Dick, visible only to him, and critiques him on how he is trying to get to Deathstroke. I am curious if we are going to see him for real, either as Bruce Wayne or Batman, but as Dick’s snarky imaginary version of Bruce I thought he was pretty good.

Dick spends most of the episode operating on his own, using his detective skills to try to track down Deathstroke. While he is gone, the team fractures. Jason has some sort of tunnel vision, constantly seeing himself falling. Meanwhile, everyone else is finding remnants of the last old problems left in places to upset them. For reasons I don’t understand, they blame these things on Jason. The only ones not taking part in the blame Jason game are Conner and Kory. Conner because he is dying, Kory because she is busy trying to prevent that.

I am a little confused about parts of the follow up to last episode. Not confused with what happened, but confused why the show decided to sequence things the way it did. In the last episode, Conner left Eve to escape from Mercy and CADMUS. The episode set it up to appear like that was the last we would see of her. She even gave Conner some last minute (terrible) advice. As the episode ended, with Conner shot with Kryptonite bullets, Mercy then managed to recapture Krypto. In this episode, Eve escapes from CADMUS again, with Krypto in tow. So the end of the last episode existed to set things up for one scene this episode in which we really learned nothing. Eve even contradicts her bead advice. She needs to be there to give Kory the information she needs to save Conner.

Judging by the end of this episode and the title of the upcoming one, next is another flashback episode. I hope we finally get fully to the bottom of the Titans/Deathstroke feud. I am not sure I picked a great season of a show to try to do these reviews. Mostly because the only characters that seem to have any sort of ongoing arc are Dick and Jason. And the jumping back and forth between timelines and stories has consistently stalled the development of a lot of the characters. I know that in the comics Deathstroke was something of an arch nemesis for Dick and it makes sense for him to be the focus, but it kind of feels like everyone else is getting lost in the shuffle.

What I Watched September 2019

Movies

Falling Inn Love — A woman wins a contest to own a B&B, which turns out to be a trap to stick them with a dilapidated old inn. A cheap romance ensues. Its fine for what it is. **

Plus One — A rom com starring Maya Erskine and Jack Quaid. They are friends who have a lot of other friends, mutual and otherwise, who are getting married. So they agree to be each other’s plus one. Eventually, a real relationship blossoms. It is actually very well executed, and Erskine and Quaid are charming. ****

The Goldfinch read review here. **1/2

Hustlers read review here. ****

Ad Astra read review here. ****1/2

Tall Girl This movie isn’t a terrible teen dramedy, but I was never hooked by the concept. It starts with a voice over talking about how the viewer knows that really tall girl, and I don’t. That is not an archetype I am familiar with. I don’t even know anyone who can relate. **

Between Two Ferns I have watched some Between Two Ferns interviews, this movie doesn’t have quite enough of them. The actual movie is nothing special, but the interviews within are amazing. I had a lot of fun with it, despite its foibles. ****

TV

Derry Girls S1&2 A fun little comedy set in 1990’s Ireland that feature some teen girls, and one boy, coming of age. The show takes a few episodes to find its footing, but once it does it is pretty entertaining. I don’t have a lot to say about it, it is a fun show that doesn’t take too long to watch.

Carnival Row S1 wrote about it here.

Frontier S3 — I’ve got to be honest, I completely lost the plot with this show. It doesn’t help that I started it months ago before finishing it recently. By the time it got to the end, I didn’t really remember who a lot of the characters were and what were their relationships to each other. I really like Jason Momoa and there is a lot of good stuff in this show, but I needed to have paid closer attention than I did.

Four Weddings and a Funeral This is based on a movie and while there are some winning performances and it is generally a solidly entertaining show, it mostly serves to make a strong argument that romantic comedies should not be ten hours long. It just takes too long to get where its going, with structure that isn’t really designed to last that long. Still, I was generally entertained by it.

Wu Assassins S1 — This kind of feels like a CW show that just so happens to star actually good martial artists (no disrespect intended to Arrow’s largely very well done fights). It is a fun martial arts fantasy. I don’t have a lot to say.

Magnum, pi S5&7 wrote about it here.

What We Do In The Shadows — The movie What We Do In The Shadows was amazing. It was my introduction to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement. What is shocking to me is that the TV show manages to keep almost everything that was good about the movie, and introduce some new fun wrinkles. It takes the concept, a mockumentary tv show about the everyday life of vampires, and transplants it to America. It all works. The addition of Mark Proksch as an energy vampire is great. It is just one of the funniest shows on TV.

Unbelievable — This is a show that I should write a full post about. It is a difficult show, an excellently made show. Kaitlyn Dever, who was great in Booksmart, stars as Marie Adler, a young woman who was raped in her apartment. She tells the police, but the force her to repeatedly recount her story and then she recants when it just becomes too much. Eventually, they charge her with false reporting. Three years later, two detectives in another state, played by Merritt Wever and Toni Collette, find themselves working a series of cases with a similar MO to that of Marie’s rapist. The show follows along two tracks, the first with Marie in 2008 as she deals with the fallout of her rape, the other in 2011 with the detectives trying to unravel these crimes. It is a really well made procedural that manages to deal with some really complex issues with a confident hand. This is one of the best TV shows of the year.

Carole & Tuesday — The first half of a new anime from Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo director Shinichiro Watanabe. This appears to take place in the same or a similar universe to Cowboy Bebop, set on a terraformed Mars. Carole is an orphaned musician working part time jobs to get by, Tuesday is the sheltered and stifled daughter of a powerful politician. She runs away and meets Tuesday, and the two form a band. The back half has the duo on an American Idol-like talent competition. There is a lot going on. I am not a big music guy, so I am not sure this is the show for me, it I am generally enjoying it quite a bit.

Disenchantment S2 I like the first season—which I believe was actually the first half of the first season and this is the second half—well enough, but this second season really sees Disenchantment grow into its own. This is still a Groening show that prioritizes plot over jokes, kind of like the inverse of Futurama, which had plot but was mostly about jokes. However, this season feels more comfortable in its style. The world is getting more interesting and more distinctive and the characters seem to have found much more comfortable roles. It is a comfort food show for me, but I still think it is really good.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 6

Titans Season 2, Episode 6: “Conner”

I think I am just going to have to resign myself to not liking how Titans handles its episode to episode storytelling. Instead of building momentum from one episode to another, this show seems determined to restart after every episode. With some forethought, the flashbacks in Aqualad and scenes from this story with Conner could have been weaved into the previous four episodes, instead of each being quarantined as its own discrete chunk. It is a storytelling choice, but one that I think has hampered the show this season, at least when watching it week to week. It feels like a choice made for a binge model, where the viewer can just blow through the whole season in a weekend.

“Conner,” instead of following up on the end of the last episode, with Jason apparently plummeting to his death, shifts gears completely, introducing eventual Superboy Conner to the mix. As a stand alone episode, “Conner” is pretty great. It starts with Conner escaping from Cadmus Labs along with a dog names Krypto. This episode finally starts to introduce some Superman into a series that has been dominated by Batman so far.

Mercy Graves, Lex Luthor’s chauffeur, bodyguard and aide-de-camp, shows up to the wrecked Cadmus and tasks Dr. Eve Watson with finding Luthor’s escaped experiment. Conner wanders the city like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster. He has the body of a young adult, but the understanding of a child. He is a largely blank slate, but he does have memories of the two men who provided the DNA that mixed to create him, those being Superman and Lex Luthor. Those memories eventually draw him to Smallville and the home of Lionel Luthor. The episode expects the viewer to have a baseline of knowledge of who Lex and Superman are. Assuming you do, it works. The weird mixture of the two in Conner’s head make for some illuminating character work. It does a great job of showing who Lex and Clark are, even though neither of them appear, excluding a picture, in the episode. Conner ends up having dinner with Lex’s elderly father, a kind seeming old man who Conner’s Lex inherited memories reveal as an abusive drunk.

The second half of the episode follows Conner and Eve Watson as they try to escape from Cadmus and Luthor’s goons, while she slowly explains the events that led to Conner’s creation. That culminates in the two of them visiting the lab where Conner was created, and since he is experiment 13 he sees the remains of the other 12 experiments. Then the show finally, finally resolves the cliffhanger from the previous episode, while leaving another in its wake.

This episode introduces the best character on the show so far. No, not Conner. Krypto. Conner saves the dog at the opening, and the two of them are together from then on. Krypto is a good dog. The mid-episode reveal that Krypto has powers is excellent, as he catches an rpg and tosses it back to the man who shot it. He acts as something like Conner’s conscience. He knows not to go to the Luthor farm, his barking pulls Conner back several times when his dark side takes over. He is just a great dog.

I find myself enjoying every episode to one degree or another, so I can’t complain too much. Next episode is titled Bruce Wayne, so it looks like where are going to get some Dick stuff. I assume it will be with the team in the present, but who knows. At least I am caught up now.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep5

Titans Season 2, Episode 5: “Deathstroke”

“Deathstroke” picks up right where “Ghosts,” episode 3, left off. Jason Todd has been captured by Deathstroke. His is strung up in Deathstroke’s and Dr. Light’s hideout. After getting the better of Dr. Light (really, Jason’s repeated clowning of Dr. Light is making the other Titans look foolish for the difficulty they’ve had dealing with him) Deathstroke stops Jason’s escape attempt.

Back at Titans Tower, the rest of the team learns what has happened to Jason. The older Titans are still not treating the younger members like real members of the team. Rose continues to be a truth telling shit stirrer, able to identify people’s problems, but comments in ways seemingly designed to set people off.

Dr. Light finally gets fed up with working for Deathstroke and decides to take on the team himself, only for Deathstroke to put a pretty definitive end to that plan, and set a trap for the Titans at the same time.

Things start to look up for the team when Starfire finally arrives in San Francisco. She immediately gets to helping Raven deal with her growing powers. She is the calming influence that the rest of the team needs. Especially with the deal that Deathstroke has proposed, trading Jason for Rose. While the older team members debate handing Rose over, Gar, Rose, and Raven listen in. After listening to them debate handing her over to her homicidal father, Rose tries to escape. Eventually, it comes down to a showdown between Raven and Rose, and we get a look at just how powerful Raven is now, as well as a first look at Rose’s powers.

Back with Deathstroke and Jason, the show finally gives a better idea of what Deathstroke’s specific beef with the Titans is. It is hypocritical, which is kind of Deathstroke’s thing. He makes it seem as though Dick is the cause of his enmity, which is the opposite of what we just saw in “Aqualad,” where Deathstroke appeared on his own and started a fight with the Titans.

This episode did have the first instance of me actually liking Hawk. He is as abrasive as ever, but he has a moment of vulnerability that actually works to make the character endearing. As much as he didn’t seem to like him when he was around, he sees something of himself in Jason and can’t rest while Deathstroke has him. Dawn, though, continues to be confounding. A couple of episodes ago she was the one moonlighting in her costume, now she is determined that the Titans are done. She goes after Dick to shut the team down once they finish things off with Deathstroke.

Dick outlines a plan that, while not actually including Raven and Gar at least lets them know what is going on, before a swerve sets up Dick facing off with Deathstroke alone. It ends with a cliffhanger that calls back to Jason Todd’s death in the comics more than thirty years ago.

I love how this show gives its characters a chance to breath, instead of being all plot or action. The problem is that several of its characters are not particularly well drawn or interesting. Hank and Dawn are generally the worst. Donna is mostly a cipher. The show noticeably picks up when Starfire is around. There is chemistry between her and Dick, between her and Raven. Most of the younger characters are fine, though the show needs to give Gar something to do. With the addition of Rose and the next episode apparently introducing Conner Kent, maybe it is time for Hawk and Dove to get that retirement they seem to be looking for.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep4

Titans S2, Ep 4: “Aqualad”

Did I start this project with any idea that I would immediately fall a month behind? Actually yes, I kind of suspected this would happen. But I am committed to catching up and to sticking with it through the rest of the season.

Aqualad starts five years in the past with a proper introduction to Deathstroke as he commits a handful of murders. Because that is what Deathstroke does; kill people. It also introduces, but does not name or identify, Jericho.Then it switches to showing the original Titans in action as a team, with the five of them brutally taking out a trio of car jackers. Five original Titans, with the four we already know—Donna, Dick, Dawn, and Hank—as well as previously unseen (and maybe unmentioned) Garth, who is the Aqualad from the title. They return to the tower for what appears to be a birthday party for Garth.

The show kind of falls down in its portrayal of the relationship between Garth and Donna. Garth keeps pressuring her for a date, while Donna studiously avoids him. That is despite Dawn’s pushing her to him. It isn’t quite clear why Donna is not into Garth, but it doesn’t really matter. She makes it clear that she is not interested, and everyone is ignoring her wishes. It feels kind of gross, with them all pushing her to a relationship she clearly does not want. Now, it is possible she is supposed to appear more conflicted than she does. Donna is leaving for Themyscira soon and does not want to start something that will inevitably be forced to end. It works a little better as the episode goes on, but maybe it should have started with a scene of them actually connecting. It also feels as though there is some information that the show is still holding back. I feel like I’m all over the map here, but only because the show is all over the map. Despite the title of the episode, this episode is about Donna Troy. However, I came out of it feeling like I knew less about her character than when I went in. Without knowing what Donna actually wants, her actions in this episode are inexplicable.

The other big thread in the episode is a little more explanation of who exactly Dr. Light is. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot there. “Would your pedestal be so high without the insights from my spectacular failures?” he shouts at a contemptuous colleague. Dr. Light sucks, and everyone knows he sucks. The team takes him out with minimal effort.

Everything ends in tragedy when Deathstroke returns, setting up another flashback episode to tell the other half of this story. It also has Dick making a connection with Jericho, who is Deathstroke’s son, which seems to be part of his revenge plot.

I’m not sure how well this flashback episode works, because it leaves so many unanswered questions and killed the momentum the show had built up with last week’s episode. We still don’t know who hired Deathstroke, who he was actually hired to kill. We also don’t know what has set him coming after the team again in the present. “Aqualad” merely served to kind of focus the questions we should be asking about Deathstroke’s plot. It did give a bigger look at Donna than episode has yet, but I don’t think we actually learned anything about her. It kind of feels like a missed opportunity.

Recap of the Titans S2 Ep 3

Titans Season 2, Episode 3: “Ghosts”

This is the first episode that actually feels like business as usual for the team. After a pair of episodes devoted to closings and openings, this episode is about continuing. It would have worked so much better with that first episode as the finale, as it was clearly intended to be, but you can feel the momentum picking up with this episode, ending with an intriguing cliffhanger.

It picks up with the team dealing with the revelation that Rose’s father is Deathstroke. Then it immediately jumps to the other half of the team, Hawk, Dove, and Donna, showing up at Titans tower. Dick sends the kids off before discussing the current problem with Dr. Light with the old team. They decide they have to deal with their unfinished business and take him in. The team doesn’t react well to his revelations about Rose and Deathstroke. The reconstituted team goes after Dr. Light and kind of flubs the attempt. After Donna commits what was almost certainly a homicide with a motorcycle, Dr. Light escapes.

While the adults are trying to bring in Dr. Light, the kids are having troubles of their own. Raven is having trouble with her powers and Jason is a constant shit stirrer. The addition of Rose, another shit stirrer, really complicates things. Rose is a sympathetic figure, bonding with Rachel over their mutual terrible fathers. But she also can’t seem to help causing some dissension. Just a little time observing the team lets her find some weaknesses. That is not a good mix with Jason’s hatred of being sat at the kid’s table. When he and Gar find where Dr. Light is hiding, he can’t help but force the issue. It, of course, goes poorly.

The other big thread in the episode is the show finally really digging into who and what Starfire is. At the end of the last episode, she was kidnapped by another alien. Her, it is revealed that he is a member of the royal guard from her planet, her seeking a missing princess, who just so happens to be Kori. He is also something of an ex-boyfriend. Now Kori has to deal with her responsibilities at home and her desire to stay on Earth with her new friends. While the first season was all about her remembering who she was, this season is setting her up to decide who she is going to be.

One good thing about this episode is that it gets most of its characters in one place, and the show gives most of them some time to grow. Hawk and Dove continue to not really work. In this episode they frame their continual pull back to the team as addiction, which makes it clear what the right answer is, but if they are going to be on this show they are always going to be involved in superhero stuff. It is like the characters have already figured out the answer to their problems, but the show won’t let them solve the problem. Dick is dealing with some major guilt. The younger three are all trying to find their place, with Jason doing the most struggling against any perceived limits. Jason’s talk with Gar is particularly illuminating. He sees himself as wanted, which explains his general orneriness. He expects to be left behind or forgotten, so he forces everyone to notice him and leave him out.

Overall, Ghosts was a solid episode. The show appears to be finding a groove and appears to have a plan for its large and growing cast.

Carnival Row

For a long time, I was all in on Netflix originals. I still am, I guess. I try to give most of what they put out a try and have watched or intend to watch most of their movie output. While I am still in on a bunch of Netflix shows that have not yet been cancelled, lately I have found myself favoring Amazon Prime’s approach to original content.

Netflix’s strategy, though it may be starting to change, seems to have been to throw money at any and every project it can get its hands on. This led to a lot of weird interesting stuff, as well as simply bad stuff. I don’t think any one else would have given us something like American Vandal, for example. Amazon Prime has always felt more curated than Netflix. They are going for a specific tone and quality, like a network trying to create an identity. Even if Amazon’s output has been more consistent, I don’t think Amazon’s approach has resulted in appreciable better content.

That said, over the last year or so I have come to a greater appreciation of Amazon Prime’s output, and this year they have released several shows that reveal their target consumer appears to be me specifically. The adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens was delightful. I wound up really enjoying The Boys and the unfortunately cancelled The Tick. John Krasinski sells Jack Ryan despite the shows dodgy politics. There is more Homecoming on the way at some point. And while its second season was dreadful, I have hopes that Goliath can right the ship.

That brings us to Amazon Prime’s latest release targeted to my sensibilities and actual subject of this post: Carnival Row.

The reviews I’ve read of Carnival Row have been middling at best, and I can’t really disagree with most of the reasoning within those reviews. (I saw most, calling it out for not being the next Game of Thrones is nonsense.) Carnival Row is a strange beast, a Victorian-ish fantasy mystery show. I don’t know that Carnival Row is actually any good; that doesn’t really matter, though. What matters is that I loved watching it.

Carnival Row combines many elements that I enjoy individually. It is structured like a murder mystery, which I love. The setting is a kind of Victorian-ish steampunk fantasy world, another thing I greatly enjoy. Honestly, I am kind of a sucker for Victorian romances, which a major subplot of this show apes quite effectively. Nearly all the building blocks of this show are precisely calibrated for me to enjoy, so long as they executed halfway well at all.

The story is a little more uneven than the setting, but it mostly works. The mystery isn’t quite there because the most obvious answer after the initial couple of episodes turns out to be the culprit. I kept expecting a twist, but it was more waiting to learn the why rather than the who and there is no real way to speculate on that. Early on the show sets up a lot of threads that appear to be unrelated. Cara Delevingne plays Vignette Stonemoss (this show has top tier names), a fae refugee who shows up in the Burgue and finds out her supposedly dead lover is still alive. That lover is Orlando Bloom’s Rycroft Philostrate (told you about the names). Philo is a detective who is investigating a serial killer who has been killing fae in the slums. The two of them struggle to deal with their reunion as Vignette tries to get used to living as a refugee in the racist Burgue. Also involved are Imogen and Ezra Spurnrose, a pair of impoverished nobles trying to hold on to their lifestyle. They meet up with a rich faun, Agreas Astrayon, who is trying to make inroads amongst the upper class. Finally, there are the Breakspears, the prime minister and his family as they deal with some family problems. While Philo and Vignette are connected, the rest of them do not appear to be at first. The only thing truly connecting them are the setting.

Carnival Row is driven by an obvious and effective racism metaphor that is wrapped up in a solid exploration of colonialism. The fae and other related fantasy races are called “critch” by the people of the Burgue and treated like second class citizens. The fae in the Burgue are refugees from Tirnanoc, the site of a war between two colonialist powers that the Burgue lost. When they withdrew they left the fae that had supported them on their own. With their homeland destroyed, many had no choice but to flee to the Burgue. It creates a toxic stew on the titular Carnival Row, where the fae refugees do what work they can, largely as servant or sex workers, and the Burgue citizen resent them as a drain on the city, especially as the city’s power fades.

Philo and Vignette are co-protagonists, and they give two different and sympathetic points of view. Vignette has trouble dealing with the powerlessness and unfairness of the situation. She goes from working as a servant, with the Spurnroses, to realizing she has no recourse when the master of the house tries to force himself on her. Then she works with a criminal group, which is dangerous because they have to maintain secrecy to keep ‘safe.’ Meanwhile, Philo has a position as a constable, but he has trouble with his fellow cops because he isn’t racist. She gets to see things from the fae side; he sees it from the human. The clarity of its messaging, for the most part, makes up for its simplicity.

The show isn’t exactly fast paced, but it keeps the action coming at a steady clip. It is best when it is the most focused. The first few episodes are the weakest because it is not clear how all the characters relate to each other or how their stories are in any way connected. Some of those connections are not apparent until very late in the show. But strong performances all around and a generally entertaining setting and concept make for a strong show.

Magnum PI

Magnum, pi went off the air more than 30 years ago. I mean, I guess it came back on the air with a remake that started airing on CBS last fall, but the original Magnum, PI’s last episode was in May 1988. I was only two years old at that time, but through reruns, the show made a big impression on a very young me. Still, my memories of it were vague. I remembered the sun and beaches, the car and the helicopter, the music and the mustache. I started watching it on Amazon Prime expecting another piece of 1980’s camp that has little to offer now other than nostalgia. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Magnum, PI is that stuff, but it is also much more. There are some things that are very much of the 1980’s, but in many ways this show could come out today and fit right in in the upper echelon of television, especially broadcast television. (I know there is a remake show happening right now; no, I haven’t seen it.) It is sometimes silly, sometimes thoughtful, but nearly always entertaining. One of Magnum’s strengths is something that likely gets it dismissed from any serious conversation these days: Magnum, PI is almost completely episodic. With a few exceptions, this is not a serialized show. That works with Magnum’s job. He is a private investigator and each episode is a new case. That allows the show to be a lot of things, and only rarely do those things feel like they clash. It allows the show to bring all the elements of its setting to their fullest strength, depending on the episode. They don’t all work, but more work that don’t. The set up allows for one episode to pit Magnum against a dirty magazine publisher in softball game with the estate as the stakes and for another to feature a Soviet plot with ties to Magnum’s time in Vietnam, with each feeling like a part of the same show.

There is beauty in the shows simplicity. It is set in sun drenched Hawaii. Thomas Sullivan Magnum is a private investigator. He is also a Navy veteran who served in Vietnam. He lives in the guest house of a rich author, the unseen Robin Masters, and nominally works as the head of security on Masters’s compound. In that capacity, he clashes with Higgins, the estate’s majordomo. On the side, he takes private cases. Magnum is aided by two old Navy buddies, helicopter pilot TC and club operator Rick. Magnum is a kind of a blue collar guy stuck in a white collar living situation. This set up works for all kinds of stories. The connections with the rich and famous through Mr. Masters allows Magnum to get involved in some of the sillier and more ridiculous cases. Meanwhile, his military past allows for more serious stories. His job as a private investigator works is malleable enough for all kinds of mysteries, thrillers and adventures.

Like any long running show, Magnum evolves as it goes along. As it nears the end of its run, it really pushed the boundaries of its malleability. Unlike the usual arc with long running shows where they grow more ridiculous as they get older, Magnum gets darker and more violent. With Amazon Prime being short the sixth season, the jump from the fifth to the seventh is the jarring. The show just keeps pushing farther to the extremes of violence and darkness that it shows. It is hard to quantify; the show was always a violent show. Magnum and his friends are all Vietnam veterans, and there are numerous references and flashbacks to their time in the military. One episode is essentially a TV version of Rambo II. The show never loses the lighter episodes, but even those seem more likely to involve shoots outs with machine guns.

With season 7 it is part of an arc, or at least something close to an arc, ending with Magnum’s apparent death at the end of the season. I knew of that episode before watching it. Before season 7 that ending would be completely out of sync with the rest of the show; the brightness always seemed greater than the darkness. But season 7 flips that, you feel the danger of Magnum’s world.

Magnum, PI remains a very watchable, entertaining show. Plus, I can see its DNA in some of my more modern favorites like Psych, another sun-drenched crime/mystery show. I still have the last season to get through, and season 6 which is not on Amazon Prime with the rest of the series, but the hundred plus episodes I’ve seen are mostly excellent. This is one memory from childhood that is at least as good as I remember it being.