Category Archives: most anticipated

Twin Peaks: The Return (Episode 1)

I must confess to the fact that I’m a Twin Peaks newcomer. I haven’t seen any of the previous episodes but I’ve been recapped on the Laura Palmer murder mystery and the ensuing oddities from friends. Having said that, I’m still a devout fan of David Lynch’s oeuvre of idiosyncratic surrealism (The Elephant Man, Dune and Blue Velvet being my personal choices for his magnum opuses).

Lynch’s collaborations with Kyle MacLachlan have been a tremendously fruitful marriage of actor and director. Kyle seems to be readily incorporated into Lynch’s brand of bucolic madness. In the intervening 25 years, Agent Dale Cooper has a nefarious doppelganger: a tanned weekend warrior with a mullet and pitch-black irises. Quite the stark contrast to his well-groomed, fastidious image during his stay in Twin Peaks.

Much like his other excursions into dream logic, the dialogue is serpentine with quotable nonsequitirs such as when Dale advises a lodging employee to hire another bouncer, she cryptically replies “It’s a world of truck drivers.” Along with that, the 217-member cast includes a cornucopia of celebrity walk-ons (Ashley Judd, Jane Adams, Matthew Lillard, etc.) and loopy characters (the absentminded neighbor is my favorite).

Lynch can be oblique but he doesn’t alienate the audience with pretentiousness. Within a reconnoitered building, a man is garrisoning a “top-secret” project which is a glass box that seemingly hypnotizes the people around it. How it correlates to the overarching story is still an enigma but when the guard states that his colleague once saw something materialize inside the box, we are anxiously awaiting a phantasmagorical glimpse ourselves.

Emboldened by a slot on Showtime, the show isn’t bound by network censors and therefore, a highly charged, carnal sex scene can occur before a EVP-esque poltergeist can collide through the booth and savagely slaughter the copulating couple. It’s a genuinely scary set piece. Cooper is largely missing from the premiere episode but the plot now pivots on gravitating Cooper back to the wilderness.

The latest incarnation of Twin Peaks is an unassailable success. It proceeds to ferry us back to the land of Lynch’s gonzo imagination and terrifying quirkiness (the deputy chief gains information from messages from a log). To some, it might be a wave of nonsense or a shaggy dog story with no coherent ending. To me and those who grew up on the show, its puzzling structure is chief among its pleasures.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5


Review: Rick & Morty (Season 3, Episode 1)

In what might be the most brilliant piece of counterprogramming for April Fool’s Day, Adult Swim jolted the burgeoning cult of Rick and Morty fans by continuously streaming the season 3 premiere on their website until the stroke of midnight on April 1st. Personally, I had to watch the episode several times because lag caused me to watch piecemeal. What this means is they didn’t anticipate the amount of traffic they’ve received upon the announcement; a testament to the show’s widening audience.

As for the show itself, it’s been over a year since we saw Rick imprisoned in an intergalactic jail for his assorted crimes. Unlike most animated shows which treat continuity rather arbitrarily, Rick and Morty prides itself on not ignoring the consequences of its cliffhangers. The Federation has colonized Earth and Rick is being interrogated by an agent (guest star Nathan Fillion) for his interdimensional secrets.

The funniest part of Fillion’s role is when Rick transferring his consciousness into the agent’s brain and Fillion flaunts a hilarious Rick impersonation (complete with the burps, arrogance and slurred speech pattern). Dan Harmon’s world is not hermetically sealed from pop culture references either with allusions to David Cronenberg and the Hunger Games.

The time paradoxes are surprisingly well-crafted for a comedy show. When one Rick visits another doppelganger to persuade him to devise the portal technology, he flippantly jokes about how his influence on concocting the travel system means the current Rick isn’t the actual creator of it. Pretty cerebral material for what was preceded by a smorgasbord of flatulence gags.

Morty is still the fly in Rick’s ointment as he is constantly sabotaging Rick’s forethought with his irate behavior. During a standoff with Summer and a member of Seal Team Rick, Morty’s interference inadvertently yields a positive result unbeknownst to him. Morty’s role as the albatross around Rick’s neck is still highly amusing.

In the episode’s final moments, the show promises another contortion on nuclear-family bliss when Beth announces she is divorcing Jerry after Jerry issues an ultimatum between him and her father. It might be an example of misdirection but Justin Roiland and Harmon hardly believe in half-measures. They also lampoon the staple of having season-long character arcs with Rick exclaiming that his arc is a search for Szechuan McNugget dipping sauce.

It’s been reported that Roiland and Harmon are having creative differences over the 14-episode run of Season 3 which catalyzed the interminable wait before the official premiere this summer. If they can maintain this level of off-kilter invention and anti-humor, Rick and Morty is displaying no signs of not getting to that Season 9 condiment revelation.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: Crashing (Season 1, Episode 1)

The name Pete Holmes might not ring any bells with people on the outskirts of the New York stand-up circuit but his act certainly resonated with the prolific Fred Decorvoda of comedy, Judd Apatow. When Pete (as a veiled version of himself) is about to spontaneously have sex with his wife on the kitchen floor, he awkwardly makes a joke about “10 CC’s of Dawn” for his hands. From that point onward, the show has established Holmes’ comical persona as a tongue-tied nebbish whose mileage can vary based on your preference for cringe humor.

The half-hour format is optimal for sitcoms like this but the show is not stringently original in its concept. The fact that a comedian’s life is normally a shambles of neurotic setbacks is a trail that was blazed by Seinfeld, Marc maron and most currently, the brilliantly mumblecore stream-of-consciousness of FX’s Louie.

It’s too early in the series to see if the show will escape the vortex of those previous shows but it is intermittently funny and less noxious than Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley. The scene where Holmes interrupts extramarital sex with his wife and Lief, an oblivious art teacher, has been recycled dozens of times.

Since the show itself is on a brittle foundation, the show must rest solely on the supporting cast which is comprised of seasoned clowns like Artie Lange, Sarah Silverman and Jeffrey Ross. Artie’s critique of Holmes’ “set” is scathingly funny when he compares it to his cousin admitting to child molestation.

As such a comedian funneling his pain into a “raw” portion of his act, is pretty stale but the “crash and burn” aftermath is usually ignored. Obviously most of Lange’s autobiographical dialogue has been ad-libbed which probably accounts for why it is so off-the-cuff and generally hilarious about the drug-fueled downturn during his MADTV tribulations. It’s during the slice-of-pizza conversation that the show is lively and unfettered sans the Murphy’s Law contrivances. If the show continues down this lane and abandons the homogeneous plotline, it can be an amiable sleeper.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Review: Big Little Lies (Season 1, Episode 1)

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Jean-Marc Vallee is a unique observer of slice-of-life Americana since he brings the baggage of a French heritage. He makes the familiar peccadillos of small-town USA into expressionistic cries (e.g. The bleary, visually muddy view of the red-and-white police squad lights over heavy panting) of David E. Kelly’s miniseries about embattled, gossiping housewives. The alliterative Madeline Martha Mackenzie (Reese Witherspoon) is the lynchpin for the inciting incident at the school fundraiser.

Like Nic Pizzolatto’s True Detective, the storytelling hinges on eyewitness testimonials from the aforementioned incident. Witherspoon is splendidly cast and her loquacious, multitasking character (“My mom’s an active talker.”) clearly craves the spotlight among her peers. She dramatically confronts her daughter’s texting friend and later, a happenstance around an ankle twist causes the snowball effect. In fact, Mackenzie could be the spiritual aunt of her overachiever from Election.

Madeline treats her acquaintances as utilitarian possessions. I love how she passively points out Celeste Wright’s (Nicole Kidman) child as if it were a lipstick in her attache case. Without hesitation, Kelley carves into out-of-one’s-element essence of the new-in-town single mother Jane Chapman (Shailene Woodley). When Madeline says “This is Monterey. We pound people with ‘nice'”, it’s a threat to her if she bastardizes the status quo of the carpooling sect.

A petition to halt the stage production of Avenue Q at the school metastasizes from a minor nuisance into a major topic of dinner conversation. It shows how people who live vicariously through the molding of their children become transfixed with preventing empty-nester syndrome (“I’m a mom. This is my universe.”). Poor Adam Scott is the “consolation prize” for divorcee Mackenzie and in his own askew delivery, he makes the viewers ache at Ed’s impotence.

By virtue of Kelly’s tart writing, the women of Monterey are gentrified by what clubs they belong to, what cliques they rotate into and what achievements their children accomplish. The only character who feels undernourished in the first episode is Celeste who is in a May-December romance with the younger stud Perry (Alexander Skarsgard). As the third leg of trio, she is a bit static beneath the umbrage of Madeline and Jane.

As a moderate runner, I can attest to the purifying power that jogging has on your mindset. I’ve never been a member of a community in which the residents participated in running together as a bonding experience. It’s also sensational to see that the angsty teenager isn’t entirely dispassionate about her mother’s tears over her children growing up. As an examination of rumor mills and parental defense mechanisms (Jane staunchly believes her son when he rebukes accusations that he strangled Renata Klein’s (Laura Dern) daughter), the show is compulsively incisive, morbidly funny and a rollicking showcase for unsung actresses.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Review: Legion (Season 1, Episode 1)

Noah Hawley doesn’t adhere to the Marvel universe that we’ve all been accustomed to from the various cinematic endeavors. Instead he crafts Legion as a coming-of-age yarn about a nonconformist youth. The visual wonder of David Haller’s (Dan Stevens) aging transition from prodigal son to paranoid, schizophrenic delinquent is a tour-de-force with the camera slowly pushing into his auspicious beginning and pushing out from his descent to the Clockworks Psychiatric Hospital.

The hallowed greenery of Clockworks’ halls is highly reminiscent of ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’. Stevens isn’t a quintessential Marvel character. He’s snarky when his older sister visits for his birthday. He’s matter-of-fact and quite disheveled. He looks frail and insecure but underneath the fragility is a repressed omnipotence (on the scale of Jean Grey) that he is virtually unaware of. When Haller lunges at a detaining henchmen, the man flinches and he quizzically asks “you’re afraid of me?” The interior views of his mind are rife with chaotic premonitions about the Devil with the Yellow Eyes who will no doubt be a formidable foe in the upcoming arc.

The loony bin is is populated with bohemian eccentrics such as the flamboyantly solipsistic Aubrey Plaza who commentates on her surroundings like Howard Cosell or Rachel Keller’s Sydney who repels physical contact despite her agreement to be Dan’s “girlfriend”. Thankfully Plaza isn’t flaunting her comedienne improv skills in every take.

The show itself doesn’t coddle the viewers. It’s deliberately muddled to reflect Haller’s mangled brain chemistry and his lack of control over his powers. I loved the visual of flashpoints in David’s life as television monitors in an open field. It requires methodical patience and a taste for acrostical puzzles. Suddenly, Haller awakens after a six-year stint in the asylum, to a case history session with the Interrogator (Hamish Linklater) near an abandoned pool. In a nod to Magneto’s imprisonment, Haller is wearing the eggshell-white jump suit from ‘X2’.

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Rather than skirting the connection to the X-Men, the word “mutant” is bandied about without italicizing it as if it were a bombshell. As the recent trilogy dabbled with, the series is steeped in 70’s-80’s decor. This is FX’s stab at the more ultraviolent Netflix shows are doing. The show is ambitiously scrambled, synaptic and psychotropic and that is meant as the highest compliment. It’s never a pejorative insult to say something is challenging when it possesses such a thrall.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

Review: Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (Season 1, Episode 1)

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I, for one, was a casual fan of the film adaptation  of the same name. Jim Carrey was capably madcap to be a chameleon thespian and the yarn was suitably morose and devilishly dark. The TV series aim to correct the condensation of the first movie by translating the first four books and expanding onto the others in later seasons.

“Just look away” are some of the lyrics to the theme song and it’s definitely apropos with the book’s disclaimer against fairy-tale expectations. Part One: A Bad Beginning is directed by Barry Sonnenfeld who has some dexterity with macabre gallows humor after ‘The Addams Family’. Patrick Warburton is our narrator for this litany of woes. His poker-faced line delivery reminds one of a gumshoe along the lines of Joe Friday.

The trolley system along the storytelling stops is crafted like kaleidoscopic pop-art. in lesser hands, this soft reboot would just be a superfluous renewal of IP but Sonnenfeld makes this newest version vitally antidotal to the felicity of most cross-generational fare. The Baudelaire family, for instance, are much more consolidated here than the 2004 rendition.

The appeal of the books as well as this is their relentlessly pessimistic tone. K. Todd Freeman doesn’t knead the fact that the Baudelaires’ parents “perished in a fire” as he succinctly spits it out with an infectious smile on his face. The gags are also more knee-slapping with the puppet of the newborn filing a sandstone down with her mouth.

Neil Patrick Harris is more malevolent and gorgonized than the impish Jim Carrey who scuttled too close to his rubber-face shtick. It’s unadulterated fun to watch Harris summon his nasty streak (“The stove is a bit like a servant. You have to whack it sometimes to get it to work.”). Weirdly, he was one the asterisk that worried me beforehand but he acquits himself tremendously in the snarling role. He even belts his own musical number (“It’s the Count”) with churlish, hilarious talentlessness.

Whereas the previous attempt was too cramped, Netflix and Sonnenfeld dilate the source material to its fullest potential. It’s a whimsically sorrowful, richly wry expansion of Daniel Handler’s eternally grey world (neighbors such as Justice Strauss (Joan Cusack) were truncated due to that film’s already episodic, disjointed structure).

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Review: Taboo (Season 1, Episode 1)

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Sweep and grandeur is not something producer Ridley Scott is lacking in his production. Therefore, going into Taboo somewhat cold, I knew the overall scope of this miniseries would be unparalleled. Plus, he coaxed the notoriously selective Tom Hardy into a limited-run series which seemed like a tantalizing proposition. By all accounts, Taboo is a stupendous showcase for both men.

Reminiscent of a Danny Elfman music box, the opening credits allude to a supernatural presence over the proceedings as bodies wade in the water before James Delaney (Hardy) awakens and resurfaces. Writer Steven Knight doesn’t coddle the audience. Delaney’s African timeline is delayed for later episodes and flashbacks. Much of this pilot episode consisted of character-based uncertainty about the “unnatural” reports of Delaney’s 10-year disappearance.

With a stride that suggests he hasn’t shed any of his scapular muscles, Hardy swaggers into a church like a reborn corpse which is hypothesized by his half-sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin). At the funeral site, he chants an indistinct hymn and Hardy fully conveys the portrait of a formerly irate enfant-terrible who has gone through a chrysalis transformation.

Sadly, much of Hardy’s recent roles have pivoted too heavily on his brooding testosterone, marblemouth accents and tilted-head posturing. For Delaney, we see the bruised, tattered heart beneath the bravado and grumbly demeanor. He plainly states that his hiatus in Africa didn’t “cure him” of his love for Zilpha. I do hope that the next few episodes illustrate a more palpable picture of Delaney’s estrangement with his deceased father. It also might serve as explanation for Delaney’s withdrawal from his own son.

For those with a taste for historical fiction, the East India Company represents an ecumenical nemesis for all parties. There have been quibbles from the historian society about the demonization but Jonathan Pryce is a splendidly priggish foe for his father’s inheritance. Undoubtedly, he will be more crucial in the coming episodes.

I loved the exchange between Delaney and a brandy-besotted acquaintance which is the basis for Delaney’s omniscience or seance-esque communication with the dead. He is monosyllabic about knowledge of his mother but he is obviously withholding his unfettered abilities. By the way, the television landscape is becoming more lax around profanity censorship was “fuck” was liberally used throughout the episode.

This introductory episode is a bit ergodic and wobbly around Delaney’s inauspicious homecoming. Whenever the episode fluttered back to Zilpha and her jaundiced husband Thorne (Jefferson Hall), it sputters its wheels in the murky London detritus. Luckily, each peel of the onion reveals a deeper layer of compunction (his bastardized son was under a caretaker’s supervision while James trekked across another continent) and ties to “witchcraft” within Delaney.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5