TV Review: American Horror Story (2011- )

Original Run: October 5th, 2011 – current
Created by: Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Cesar Davila-Irizarry, Charlie Clouser, James S. Levine, Mac Quayle
Cast: Evan Peters, Connie Britton, Dylan McDermott, Taissa Farmiga, Denis O’Hare, Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocheré, James Cromwell, Frances Conroy, Emma Roberts, Kathy Bates, Michael Chiklis, Finn Wittrock, Angela Bassett, Wes Bentley, Matt Bomer, Chloë Sevigny, Cheyenne Jackson, Lady Gaga, Cuba Gooding Jr., André Holland, Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Alexandra Daddario, Grace Gummer

Ryan Murphy Productions, Brad Falchuk Teley-Vision, 20th Century Fox, 78 Episodes (so far), 37-73 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2015.

I just binge watched the first three seasons of American Horror Story, as I was running out of things to watch on Netflix and this was in my queue for a few years. I have yet to see season 4, as it isn’t available yet.

I have a few friends who obsess over this show, which is probably why I put it off for so long. Usually, when a bunch of people build something up really high, I am left disappointed. I think the only time I wasn’t was when I finally sat down to watch Breaking Bad.

I wouldn’t call American Horror Story a disappointment though. It was pretty enjoyable and I’ll watch future seasons, albeit at my own leisure. But I wouldn’t call the show special or hype it up to everyone I know.

The premise of the show is horror, which is obvious by the title, but other than tapping into supernatural elements and showing something scary every now and then, it plays more like a teen drama. But that is the way of Hollywood these days. Sure, most of the characters are older than teens but this is definitely a show written for them.

The show just isn’t scary and that is why I have reservations about horror being used in a television format. Sure, you can churn up a few frights and provide creepy visuals and a dark tone but over the course of a 13 episode season, the monsters you are selling get less and less scary. When the reveals have to happen early because modern audiences can’t tolerate suspense, there is nowhere else to go other than adding in more teen drama and stretching out a resolution.

I guess the one thing that irks me about the show, is how the payoffs seem rushed, the resolution happens almost too early and the final few episodes of each season play like an epilogue that is too fleshed out. The grand evil each season is conquered around episode 11. So what you get is two more episodes that really aren’t necessary. I don’t care about any of these characters that much. It’s like the ending to the extended edition of The Return of the King – you just want it to be over.

Highlights of the show include the acting talents of Jessica Lange and Evan Peters (who was Quicksilver in X-Men: Days of Future Past). The rest of the cast, at least the actors who appear over multiple seasons are all pretty good. Although, Angela Bassett as Marie Laveau was horrible. I don’t blame her, as the character of Laveau was horribly written. The writers really tarnished the well respected legacy of the New Orleans Voodoo Queen and turned her into an evil vengeful idiot. Kathy Bates was fantastic though, I do want to point that out.

I like the show more than I dislike it but it hasn’t solidified me as a fan and it is a moderately enjoyable way to waste a weekend.

Update:

After the third season, I watched two more. Each year gets worse and worse, to the point that I’ve completely stopped caring about the show. The last season I watched was Hotel and I have no more interest in the future of this anthology franchise. I think there are two more seasons after Hotel with the possibility of this going on forever… but I’m done.

TV Review: Hemlock Grove (2013-2015)

Original Run: April 19th, 2013 – October 23rd, 2015
Created by: Brian McGreevy
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy
Music by: Nathan Barr
Cast: Famke Janssen, Bill Skarsgård, Landon Liboiron, Penelope Mitchell, Freya Tingley, Dougray Scott, Tiio Horn, Joel de la Fuente, Madeleine Martin, Camille De Pazzis, Lili Taylor, Madeline Brewer

Gaumont International Television, ShineBox SMC, United Bongo Drum, Inc., Netflix, 33 Episodes, 45-58 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

*written in 2014.

Hemlock Grove is a Netflix Original Series. I’m watching through all of their shows in an effort to do a list ranking them in the near future.

This was a much better show than I thought it would be. I was wondering if it would be more like True Blood or more like that atrocious piece of shit Twilight. It was definitely more or less its own thing but aligned on the True Blood side of the equation, in that it was very adult, didn’t deal so much with teenage love, had no sparkly bitch vampires and served up a decent amount of gore.

The early episodes aren’t well acted in some spots but it does improve. The style of the show is also unique in that it goes into the werewolf and vampire, or in this case “upir”, mythos but there is a lot more to the supernatural and bizarre here. It also brings in a heavy science element that makes this show not seem like a redundant recycle of all the other popular supernatural shows that are out right now.

It’s not a great show by any stretch but it is good, at least the first season. The plot thread of the second season wasn’t on the same level as the first, in my opinion, but it still provided enough to keep me interested and looking forward to season 3, when and if it ever drops. So far, season 3 has not been announced.

The first season worked really well on its own and if it had been a one off, it would probably be well-regarded and have created a cult following. The second season takes away some of the magic of the first but it is really a trade off for going deeper into the secrets of the show. I’m fine with that though.

Update:

The show went out with a serious whimper. More like a big bowl of WTF in the worst way possible.

TV Review: Preacher (2016- )

Original Run: May 22nd, 2016 – current
Created by: Sam Catlin, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Preacher by Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon
Music by: Dave Porter
Cast: Dominic Cooper, Joseph Gilgun, Ruth Negga, Lucy Griffiths, W. Earl Brown, Derek Wilson, Ian Colletti, Tom Brooke, Anatol Yusef, Graham McTavish, Pip Torrens, Noah Taylor, Julie Ann Emery, Jackie Earle Haley

Woodbridge Productions, Short Drive Entertainment, Point Grey, Original Film, Kickstart Productions, KFL Nightsky Productions, AMC Studios, Sony Pictures Television, 23 Episodes (so far), 42-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Preacher was a comic book series a lot of my friends have talked about for years. I never read it, actually, but I have always wanted to. After seeing the show, now two seasons into its run, I definitely want to pick up the comic series much sooner than later, even if I am two decades too late.

The show stars the always perfect Dominic Cooper. It also stars Oscar nominated actress Ruth Negga and the super entertaining Joseph Gilgun, as an Irish vampire. The show actually reunites Negga and Gilgun, who both starred in the awesome British show Misfits. Well, maybe not a real reuniting, as they were on that show a season apart.

One of the most surprising things about Preacher, when I first heard about it, was that it was being developed by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. AMC did feel like the perfect home for this show though, due to how well it has handled another little comic book property, The Walking Dead.

Preacher follows a preacher who has a special power. He is able to use his voice to force people to do his bidding. He is joined by his crazy ex-girlfriend (Negga) and his new vampire sidekick (Gilgun). Initially, the show takes place in a small Texas town and pits Jesse Custer, the preacher, against an evil and psychotic villain, played by Jackie Earle Haley. Jesse discovers that God is missing, his hometown is destroyed and season two sees our trio head to New Orleans in search of God.

While The Walking Dead pushed the envelope of what you can show on television to new levels, Preacher pushes it even further. This is a really dark show. Dark to the point where even regular viewers of The Walking Dead might feel uncomfortable with Preacher. In fact, I’m not sure how this can exist and not be something that has to be on HBO, Showtime or Starz.

Overall, the show is pretty damn good. Sometimes it feels a bit drawn out, which is its only real weakness. The thing is, Preacher is so unique and bizarre that you’re never really sure where each episode will end up. As of now, it looks as if each season will have its own unique theme and environment. From what I’ve seen thus far, it doesn’t seem like it will be a show that will get stale or trapped in redundancy.

Preacher boasts some of the best actors on television and each season brings in other veteran actors with talent to match. Negga truly is an Oscar caliber performer but Cooper and Gilgun are right there with her from scene to scene.

Preacher is a show with serious gravitas but it isn’t for everyone. I can’t imagine that it could have a large audience, which is why it is such a unique experience and its existence in its current format, a bit puzzling. But over the years, television seems to be getting better and smarter as motion pictures continue to be dumbed down to the point that most are unwatchable.

This is a show that feels fresh and new and brings something to the table that no one has seen before. It doesn’t hurt that it is also a top quality effort by everyone involved, at every level.

TV Review: Mr. Robot (2015- )

Original Run: June 24th, 2015 – current
Created by: Sam Esmail
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Mac Quayle
Cast: Rami Malek, Carly Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater, Michael Cristofer, Stephanie Corneliussen, Grace Gummer, BD Wong, Sunita Mani, Azhar Khan, Michael Drayer, Michel Gill, Ron Cephas Jones, Gloria Reuben, Joey Bada$$, Craig Robinson

Universal Cable Productions, Anonymous Content, Esmail Corp., NBC Universal, 22 Episodes (so far), 41-65 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

It is really hard talking about Mr. Robot without spoiling something. But that is what makes this show so exceptional. It has so many twists, turns and surprises that you’re never really sure where the show is going but two seasons in, I have yet to find myself disappointed. In fact, I’ve been nothing but captivated.

The story is about hackers, primarily the main character Elliot and those around him but Elliot is the true focus of the show. If I were to say anything more than that, it might be too much. I went into this blindly and I am glad that I did. It is best to go in without spoilers. It is also best to binge watch the hell out of it. It’s actually hard not to binge it, as you can’t stop watching it once you start. The wait between season two and season three, which is still two months away, has been a long and painful lapse of time.

There really isn’t anything I can say about this show that isn’t positive.

The writing is absolutely superb. The style, the visuals and the sounds of the show draw you in and don’t loosen their grip, holding you there and keeping you there – completely immersed in this world that Elliot lives in. And really, a lot of this also has to do with the stellar acting, mostly from Rami Malek and Christian Slater but also from the other players. There isn’t a weak link in this steel chain of talent.

Sam Esmail, the creator, as well as writer and director of the most pivotal episodes, has created something otherworldly. This is the best show I have seen since Breaking Bad, which is the show that I consider to be the greatest of all-time and the standard bearer for everything else. In fact, Mr. Robot is almost as good and as perfect as Breaking Bad but only time will tell if it continues to hit the high bar it has already set.

While this show does borrow concepts and ideas from various things, which I won’t mention in an effort not to spoil this, it is still fresh and original and actually improves on a lot of those ideas.

Season one works well as a single story. Season two, which many people have been more critical about, expands the mythos of this universe and really builds a great foundation for this show going forward. While season two doesn’t have a concrete conclusion to it, it doesn’t really need one, as it gives season three a great starting point.

Mr. Robot is the best television show that the USA Network has created in their long history. It is the best show to start its run in this decade. If it maintains its quality throughout its existence, I’ll have to raise the rating from a nine to a ten.

Documentary Review: American Experience: War of the Worlds (2013)

Release Date: October 29th, 2013
Directed by: Cathleen O’Connell
Music by: John Kusiak
Narrated by: Oliver Platt

WGBH, PBS, 52 Minutes

Review:

The PBS television documentary series American Experience did an episode that covered the famous Orson Welles radio broadcast of War of the Worlds.

For those who don’t know, this broadcast convinced many Americans that New Jersey was being invaded by violent Martians. The radio program was done in the style of fake newscasts and those who tuned in too late to hear that this was a performance, were swept up in these fake news reports and thus, widespread panic ensued.

When I was a kid, I heard this story and I couldn’t understand how people could be duped like that. It made me think that people in the 1930s were morons. Living in the world today, I can now see how something like this would have been possible. The documentary also does a fine job outlining how this happened and the points it hits make a lot of sense.

Part of the documentary is made up of dramatizations and actors playing the roles of people who commented on the crazy incident from their historical point of view. These segments were filmed like typical talking head interviews and were there to add some context in regards to the public perception of the event.

Being a fan of Orson Welles, it was cool getting a lot more insight on this incident than just the basic story. It delved into the early production of the broadcast and also the aftermath and how well Welles handled the press and was able to have a huge career after this.

I really enjoyed this documentary and it is actually available on Netflix, at the time of this posting, anyway.

TV Review: WWE Breaking Ground (2015- )

Original Run: October 25th, 2015 – current
Created by: WWE
Directed by: Christopher Bavelles, Ronn Head
Narrated by: William Shatner
Cast: Matt Bloom, William Regal, Sara Amato, Triple H, Bayley, Mojo Rawley, Carmella, Robbie Brookside, Dana Brooke, Tyler Breeze, Nia Jax, Baron Corbin, Tino Sabbatelli, Apollo Crews, Jason Jordan, Chad Gable, Big Cass, Sami Zayn

3 Ball Entertainment, WWE, 30-43 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Breaking Ground is a documentary reality show produced by WWE for their exclusive streaming service, the WWE Network. It showcases a lot of their talent in NXT, which is the WWE’s training ground and minor leagues, where wrestlers hone their skills in an effort to eventually make it up to the main roster.

The feel of this show is much more real and serious than their other attempts at reality television. It is also more fine tuned and comes off as completely authentic other than the manufactured drama of shows like Total DivasTotal BellasLegends’ House and even Tough Enough.

Narrated by William Shatner, the show has a sense of legitimacy and plays out much more professionally. He adds a certain level of gravitas and credence to the production that is missing in WWE’s other shows.

The story follows several NXT Superstars, as they work out daily in the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, FL. It also follows them as they perform for WWE’s NXT brand on television and on the road. It shows the trials and tribulations of each person featured and really covers all areas and aspects of the WWE training process, by incorporating talent at varying levels of development.

While this isn’t an amazing show and is pretty dry, most of the time, it should be interesting to those who are fans of the sports entertainment business at a deeper level than just watching Monday Night Raw or Smackdown on a weekly basis.

TV Review: Kamen Rider Black RX (1988)

Also known as: Masked Rider Black RX
Original Run: October 23rd, 1988 – September 24th, 1989 (Japan)
Created by: Shotaro Ishinomori
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Tetsuo Kurata, Jun Koyamaki, Rikiya Koyama

Ishimori Pro, Toei Company, 47 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

Kamen Rider Black RX is only the third Kamen Rider series that I have seen in its entirety, after Kamen Rider V3 and Kamen Rider Black. This series is a direct sequel to Kamen Rider Black and features the same hero, although he is defeated early only to be reborn as RX.

This series is very consistent with its predecessor, which was fantastic. However, it actually ups the ante towards the end, as in the last few episodes, all the previous versions of Kamen Rider show up to offer their assistance. It was the first Kamen Rider story to feature all the Riders since the 1984 TV film Birth of the 10th! Kamen Riders All Together!!

Having defeated Gorgom in the previous series, our hero Kohtaro is now a helicopter pilot and lives with the family who owns that business. The new villain group are aliens that call themselves the Crisis Empire. They plan to take over Earth, killing all the humans because humans don’t respect the Earth. It is a simple story line that has been used in tokusatsu (and sci-fi, in general) since the beginning of the genre.

Kohtaro doesn’t just become RX, he also takes on the guise of a few other Riders with specific powers. Bio-Rider, for instance, can shrink down in a similar fashion to Marvel’s Ant-Man. Also, he has his talking motorcycle and a sweet car that looks an awful lot like Frankenstein’s car from Death Race 2000.

The action is solid, the stories are good and this series has some pretty neat looking monsters. Nine television series into this franchise and the minds behind Kamen Rider still prove that they are creative and have some fresh ideas.

The version of the show I have is a bit tough to watch, at times. This was never released commercially in the United States with proper subtitles or dubbing. That is kind of unfortunate, as the show was re-edited into a U.S. show called Masked Rider. This was done in the same way that Super Sentai shows were being re-edited into the Power Rangers franchise. In fact, this show was made to be a spin off of Power Rangers in the U.S.

The reason the version I have is tough to watch is because the DVD set is from Malaysia. Just imagine a Japanese show translated into English by Malaysians. Yeah, a lot of things get lost in translation or are very confusing. Also, character names are not consistent. In fact, RX was called “Superman Black RX” and Rider Man from Kamen Rider V3 was “Black Superman”. The subtitles also constantly warned of Earth being taken over by “queer devildom”, whatever the shit that means. Also, some of the characters had Chinese names instead of Japanese names. But this is what happens when you get DVDs of shows you like from Malaysian sellers on eBay.

Malaysian weirdness aside, it really didn’t ruin the show. Its quality shined through and Kamen Rider Black RX was pretty close to perfect for a tokusatsu show.