TV Review: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero – Season 1 (1985)

Also known as: Action Force (UK)
Release Date: September 16th, 1985 – December 13th, 1985
Directed by: John Gibbs, Terry Lennon
Written by: various
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama
Music by: Johnny Douglas
Cast (voices): Michael Bell, Arthur Burghardt, Corey Burton, William Callaway, Brian Cummings, Dick Gautier, Ed Gilbert, Chris Latta, Morgan Lofting, Mary McDonald-Lewis, Bill Ratner, Bob Remus, B.J. Ward

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, Claster Television, 55 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“As of now, your little project is deader than disco! Hmmm… Deader than disco… I like that… I would have made a great stand-up comedian.” – Cobra Commander

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is the original G.I. Joe cartoon series that ran from 1983-1986. It actually became a full series in 1985, after two separate five-part miniseries in 1983 and 1984. It was created as a big marketing vehicle for Hasbro’s G.I. Joe toy line. It also paved the way for a similar series, The Transformers in 1984. Both of these Hasbro toy franchises followed the same marketing path and also had their shows created by Marvel-SunBow. Both also had ongoing comic book series produced by Marvel.

I already reviewed the three miniseries events that lead to this regular ongoing series. However, I wanted to review just season one here, as there were a lot of big changes between seasons one and two. I will follow up with a season two review in the near future.

G.I. Joe has had several television series come and go throughout the years but none are even as close to the greatness of the original. This series, along with Transformers, created a megafranchise that was only rivaled by Star Wars, at the time.

The series created a lot of heroes and villains that were all cool and still very memorable. Cobra was, and still is, the coolest villain organization in all of fiction. G.I. Joe were the coolest heroes. As a kid who always sided with the baddies, it was hard not to love the good guys too. This was an animated show with surprisingly good character development.

The characters, for a cartoon about toys, had really good backstories and unique personalities. The stories about Shipwreck were always phenomenal. The show could tap into horrific things but serve it in a way that was okay for kids to handle. It took a lot of risks, offered up a lot of serious lessons but did it in a way that was so cool, at that age, you didn’t realize you were being taught anything. It was a perfect package of badass, cool and educational.

The art was top notch for the mid ’80s. The tone of the show was always adventurous. It was like someone took the best of James Bond, the best of The Avengers, mixed it together and gave it a military twist. G.I. Joe are mortal men without any real powers but they are superheroes. Cobra is essentially a much cooler version of SPECTRE or Hydra.

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero is still the best version of G.I. Joe ever created in animation form. I’m still waiting for a movie or a series that gets it because nothing since has even come close.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – Back to Earth (2009)

Original Run: April 10th, 2009 – April 12th, 2009
Created by: Doug Naylor
Directed by: Doug Naylor
Written by: Doug Naylor
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Chloë Annett, Sophie Winkleman

Grant Naylor, UK Gold Services Limited, BBC, Dave, 3 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It took a decade but after the weird eighth season that capped off the original run of the Red Dwarf televisions series, we finally got the promised followup. While a theatrical film was teased for years, it never materialized. Instead, we got this three-part special that aired over Easter weekend in 2009.

Back to Earth was a vast improvement over seasons seven and eight, which left many fans baffled and sad. It also brought Red Dwarf back into people’s minds and allowed for the show to actually return in its normal form which happened in 2012 and we have since had three seasons of the show following this special.

For the most part, this is a pretty good outing for Lister, Rimmer, Cat and Kryten. I wasn’t a fan of the multi-episode experiments they did in season eight, as they really contributed to the slow and drab feeling of that series. Here, the concept works though. But thankfully, this was the last time that they did a multi-part story.

This three parter is called Back to Earth because the Dwarfers actually get back to Earth but it is the Earth of our time. Furthermore, it isn’t the Dwarfers Earth it is literally our Earth. You see, the Red Dwarf crew discover that they are fictional characters made up to entertain us in the real world. They then go on a quest to get their show to continue because they don’t want to die with its cancellation. Of course, there are some twists in the plot and luckily for us, the show did continue beyond this.

This series is also an awesome homage to the sci-fi/neo-noir classic Blade Runner. It has a lot of gags and moments that are recreations of key scenes from the film and they are done beautifully. It added a cool aesthetic to this story.

Also, the story is a throwback to a really popular older episode. I’m not going to say which, as it may spoil some of the twists.

The only really weird thing about this series, is that it didn’t have a live audience or even a laugh track. The lack of canned laughter is actually kind of distracting but you do get used to it, once the Dwarfers leave their normal surroundings and get to modern Earth at the start of the second episode.

The crossover between Craig Charles’ two biggest shows Red Dwarf and Coronation Street was really damn cool, as well.

Ultimately, this isn’t as good as the classic series, as a whole, but as a standalone story, it is one of my favorites. Had it been the final time we saw these guys, as many believed in 2009, it would have been a fine and honorable sendoff.

But I’m pretty happy that we’ve gotten three more seasons after this with more presumably to come.

TV Review: Hell On Wheels (2011-2016)

Original Run: November 6th, 2011 – July 23rd, 2016
Created by: Joe Gayton, Tony Gayton
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: Anson Mount, Colm Meaney, Common, Dominique McElligott, Tom Noonan, Eddie Spears, Ben Esler, Phil Burke, Christopher Heyerdahl, Robin McLeavy, Kasha Kropinski, Dohn Norwood, Jennifer Ferrin, MacKenzie Porter, Jake Weber, Tim Guinee, Byron Mann, Reg Rogers, Angela Zhou, Chelah Horsdal

Nomadic Pictures, (Gayton)2, H.O.W. Productions, Endemol, Wirthwhile TV, Entertainment One, AMC, 57 Episodes, 43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2016.

I didn’t start watching Hell On Wheels until recently. I watched the pilot when it originally aired but it didn’t immediately capture me and I didn’t have a lot of time, back then, to keep up with the show on a weekly basis. Shows play much better for me when binge watched.

Having a strong desire for a good western television series and after years of friends touting this show, I figured that it was time to give it a real shot.

Well, AMC has kept their track record of stellar television alive with Hell On Wheels. It is the best western TV series since HBO’s Deadwood and it has actually surpassed it a bit, at least for me.

The cast of Hell On Wheels is marvelous. Anson Mount as lead character Cullen Bohannan is the perfect western protagonist. He is ex-military, has a vendetta against some evil men, is good with a gun, is no nonsense and just a good old badass. Colm Meaney, most famous for playing the lovable and nice Chief O’Brien on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is better than fantastic as Thomas Durant – a mean and sometimes sinister railroad baron. Common has his best acting role to date, as Bohannan’s friend and badass partner, Elam Ferguson. The cast is rounded out with other great talents and every regular on this show is perfect. But the absolute cream of the crop has to be Christopher Heyerdahl as Thor Gunderson a.k.a. The Swede, who is quite possibly the best villain in television history. The guy is magnificent, his execution is absolute perfection and he seriously gives you the chills.

This show is a work of art. It feels meticulously crafted and the writing is superb. I have read where some people don’t like the direction of the show after the second season but I am fine with it. The show evolves, it changes from year-to-year after the first two seasons were very similar. There just isn’t a low point for me. Granted, there is still a half of a season left where it could go off the rails but I’m pretty confident that when the show returns in a few months, we won’t get an ending on par with the crappy final episodes of Sons of Anarchy or Dexter. And we hopefully won’t get a big unanswered cliffhanger like the similar Deadwood.

I love Hell On Wheels. I would have liked to see it go on for more than five seasons but many great shows don’t make it past a single year. Luckily for us, this solid show got half a decade to shine and develop. One thing is for certain, I will be paying close attention to the careers of Mount and Heyerdahl after this show ends.

TV Review: Red Dwarf – The Classic Era (1988-1999)

Original Run: February 15th, 1988 – April 5th, 1999
Created by: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Directed by: Ed Bye, various
Written by: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor, various
Based on: Dave Hollis: Space Cadet by Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Music by: Howard Goodall
Cast: Craig Charles, Chris Barrie, Danny John-Jules, Robert Llewellyn, Norman Lovett, Hattie Hayridge, Chloë Annett

Grant Naylor, BBC, 52 Episodes, 28-30 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Red Dwarf is one of the greatest television shows ever produced. In its classic run, it was a near perfect comedic masterpiece until the early parts of season seven and the entirety of season eight. Still, six really stellar seasons is more than most shows can accomplish and even if the quality dipped, by that point, we were still spending time with these beloved characters.

The plot is bizarre but pretty original and kind of cool. Dave Lister gets put into stasis for bringing a cat on board of the mining space ship Red Dwarf. When he wakes up, he’s three million years in the future, the crew is dead, except for a hologram of his annoying superior officer and bunk mate, Arnold Rimmer, as well as a character evolved from his pet cat, appropriately named Cat. In season three, the crew are joined by the butler mechanoid Kryten. There is also the ship’s computer, Holly.

There first two seasons of the show are actually my favorite, mostly because it’s new and fresh and for a long time, it was the only portion of the show I had access to, thanks to VHS tapes sent to me from a friend in the UK. But I loved the sets and style of the first two seasons. After that, the show evolved visually where there were a lot of aesthetic changes and inconsistencies from season to season.

The real spirit of the show is strongest however from seasons three to six. That’s where the show found its proper footing, had its full cast without any extra flourishes and also featured the best writing. While Lister, Rimmer and Cat were fun in the first two years of the show, seasons three through six are where they really become real people that you care for, which is just a testament to the great writing as well as the talent of Craig Charles, Chris Barrie and Danny John-Jules – the original three stars. Robert Llewellyn’s addition to the cast as the full-time version of Kryten (he appeared in one episode of season two, played by a different actor) was a real cherry on top of the sweet sundae that was this group of characters.

In season seven, things go a bit downhill. Rimmer left the show in episode two and just had two very brief cameos in the season. In the cast, he was replaced by the show’s first and only real full-time female star, Chloë Annett. She played Kochanski, the woman that Lister obsessed over since the first episode of the show. While I actually did like Annett and the character, where most fans did not, she still felt out of place and it disrupted the dynamic of the show. I don’t blame Annett, it was just that the show had a certain formula and with her there, that formula was gone.

Season eight was pretty atrocious though and is the main reason why I can’t give the classic run of Red Dwarf a perfect rating. It was an ambitious season, as far as how drastically the show was altered but ambition is often times misguided. Had the show ended at season six, it would have been absolute perfection.

The show would then leave the airwaves for a decade. Over the course of that time there was a Red Dwarf movie being discussed but it was in developmental hell for quite some time. In 2009, the show would return with the three-part special Back to Earth, which I will review on its own. A few years after that, the show was resurrected and is still in production today. I’ll also review that separately.

TV Review: Black Mirror (2011- )

Original Run: December 4th, 2011 – current
Created by: Charlie Brooker
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various
Cast: various

Zeppotron (2011-2013), House of Tomorrow (2014- ), Endemol UK, Channel 4, Netflix, 19 Episodes, 41-89 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Black Mirror wasn’t a show that I was immediately into when it started. I heard the buzz around it and eventually decided to check it out on Netflix after the second season started streaming there. Shortly after, Netflix took over the show from the UK’s Channel 4, as it was getting a lot of play on the streaming service.

The show is an anthology series, so there are hit and miss episodes. The vast majority of the episodes are pretty stellar though and there or only a couple that I wasn’t into.

The show started out really strong with the episodes that were produced in the early seasons. The third season, the first on Netflix, was pretty solid but slightly down in quality. The fourth and latest season was the weakest and had one episode that I didn’t like in any way.

The gist of the show deals with emerging technologies and possible side effects of their implementation into everyday life. The show takes place in the very near future and most of what is showcased is pretty plausible and already emerging into our world. In a way, it shows the threat that unchecked technological advancements can bring into our lives and society.

Each episode is really well produced and each has its own director and cast. Most episodes have notable directors and actors and this brings a real quality to the show. Every episode looks good, has impressive cinematography and even though different creative teams make each chapter, there has been a visual and tonal consistency over the course of the show’s run. I thought this could have changed when Netflix took it over but they have done a good job, thus far, keeping things aesthetically sound.

Despite its low points, which there are very few, Black Mirror is one of the best shows currently on television. Each season usually has one episode that doesn’t hit the mark for me but that’s not a bad ratio when Netlfix is currently doing six episodes per season.

It’s an important show because it at least tries to warn us about how technology can be perverted and used for more nefarious means. It also brings up morality questions and the potential unintended consequences that can come from these new technologies.

TV Review: The Toys That Made Us (2017- )

Original Run: December 22nd, 2017 – current
Directed by: Tom Stern
Written by: Benjamin J. Frost, Nicholas Ferrell
Music by: Tim Burns

The Nacille Company, Netflix, 4 Episodes (so far), 46 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I had no idea that Netflix was even working on this documentary series. I discovered it as soon as it dropped on the service and I actually hit “play” without even putting it in my queue first.

The first season, which is all that has aired, at this point, features only four episodes but they were all pretty damn good.

The four episodes covered the history of the toy lines for Star WarsBarbieMasters of the Universe and G.I. Joe – all household names and all franchises.

I can only assume that the next batch of episodes will feature Transformers and Hello Kitty. At least, they seem like they are missing their honors but four episodes wasn’t enough to start this show on. I feel like they should have, at the very least, given us a half dozen.

Still, this documentary series is fun and incredibly informative. It talks to the people who were there and who worked on these famous toy lines. It goes through their genesis, their production, their release and ultimately, how they became cultural juggernauts. The documentary also does a good job of showcasing other things that were spawned from the toy lines like movies, TV shows, comics, spinoff toys, etc.

The Toys That Made Us is a solid and thorough look at the toys that actually made us. As an adult, it is cool riding on this nostalgia train and actually learning how these things we loved so much, came to be.

TV Review: Doctor Who – The Ninth Doctor Era (2005)

Original Run: March 26th, 2005 – June 18th, 2005
Created by: Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber, Donald Wilson
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: various, Murray Gold (since 2005)
Cast: Christopher Eccleston, Billie Piper, John Barrowman, Camille Coduri, Noel Clarke, Bruno Langley

BBC, 13 Episodes, 45 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It has been a while since I’ve watched the Eccleston era of Doctor Who but I wanted to go back and start with the 2005 revival series from the beginning.

This is certainly the best place to start with modern Who but the beginning of any Doctor’s run is still a decent starting place. However, Eccleston’s debut is more pivotal than David Tennant’s, as it helps to establish Rose Tyler and her friends and family into the Doctor Who mythos, as they do carry over into the show when Tennant takes the reins from Eccleston.

The show starts off with a bang and features an episode with the evil Autons, a classic Who alien race that was always cool to see on screen but have not returned to the show since that first episode of the revival series.

The show then goes on to reacquaint us with what Doctor Who is and how the Time Lord operates in this vast universe, throughout all of time and space.

We meet new aliens but we also get reacquainted with the Daleks in three episodes. The first of which, being titled just Dalek. Still, to this day, it is one of the best episodes of the revived Doctor Who series.

Apart from Rose Tyler and her family of characters, we also get to meet Captain Jack Harkness, played by John Barrowman, who would also play Merlyn in Arrow and other CW shows revolving around DC Comics heroes. Harkness was so popular, actually, that he would get his own spin off show, Torchwood. Harkness is also one of those characters that fans have been clamoring for the producers to bring back. In this season of the show, Harkness is at his best.

All in all, this is a pretty good revival of the long running show. This season isn’t as good as what was to come with David Tennant (the Tenth Doctor) but it was a good foundation for the iconic series to return. Sadly, Eccleston left after these thirteen episodes but that also gave us Tennant, so I can’t be completely broken up about it.