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Josh Reviews Disenchantment Season Three

I’m continuing to enjoy Matt Groening’s Netflix animated series Disenchantment!  Overseen by Mr. Groening and Josh Weinstein (a writer of many wonderful episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama), Disenchantment is an adventure comedy series set in a fantasy world.  Matt Groening has described the show as being “about life and death, love and sex, and how to keep laughing in a world full of suffering and idiots, despite what the elders and wizards and other jerks tell you.” That’s a pretty solid description!

The series focuses on Bean, the tough, smart, hard-living princess of Dreamland, voiced by Abbi Jacobson.  Bean’s two closest friends are a demon Luci (Eric Andre) and an Elf named Elf (Nat Faxon).  Over the course of the three seasons so far, I’ve quite enjoyed the rich, weird fantasy world that has been developed on the show!  This series isn’t on the level of The Simpsons or Futurama (the former a pop-culture juggernaut and the latter an overlooked comedic masterpiece), but it’s a great deal of fun and I recommend it.

While each episode tells a complete story, I’ve quite enjoyed the tight continuity between episodes.  This gives Disenchantment a different feeling than either The Simpsons or Futurama, which were more episodic.  (Futurama had more continuity than The Simpsons ever did, but Disenchantment is several steps beyond.)  Each season of the show feels like a chapter in a larger story.  I’ve been impressed with how the writers have been able to balance their storytelling, far better than so many other streaming shows.  Each episode has a distinct identity and tells a complete story.  At the same time, the episodes lead smoothly one into the next in a way that makes it hard to stop watching when an episode’s credits roll!  By the end of each ten episode season, I’ve felt satisfied and also eager for the next season.  The show’s penchant for season-ending cliffhangers (something never done on The Simpsons or Futurama) makes the wait between seasons difficult!

Speaking of balance, I’ve also been pleased by the show’s balance between plot and comedy.  This is a densely plotted show.  A lot happens in each episode, and after each ten episode season I’ve felt like the characters and the story have moved on to the new stage.   (I love that the series isn’t stuck in the same status quo from year to year.)  At the same time, the show is very funny!  Perhaps not at the level of the very best comedies on TV these days, but the series is consistently a lot of fun, filled with gags and wordplay that make me smile.

I’ve enjoyed the development of the characters on this show, particularly Bean, who is … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Comedy Store Five-Part Documentary Series

May 10th, 2021

Mike Binder’s five-episode documentary series, The Comedy Store, explores the history of the iconic L.A. comedy spot.  Filled to overflowing with an extraordinary array of interviews with an incredibly deep bench of comedians — a mix of huge names and lesser-known talents — this is a thoroughly enjoyable oral history of this specific establishment as well as the past several decades of stand-up comedy.

The Comedy Store is a famous stand-up spot that for decades was run by Mitzi Shore (a memorable personality, as the series spends a great deal of time exploring).  As the series recounts, Mr. Binder has a personal connection to the Store, having gotten his start there in the seventies.

The most impressive achievement of Mr. Binder’s documentary is the extraordinary array of comedians who he was able to get to participate.  It’s great fun to hear the story of the Comedy Store told by these amazingly funny individuals, including (but by no means limited to): David Letterman (being as relaxed on camera as I can recall seeing him in decades), Jay Leno, Richard Lewis, Bill Burr, Marc Maron, Chris Rock, Damon Wayans, Jim Carrey, Nikki Glaser, Michael Keaton, Whoopi Goldberg, Sebastian Maniscalco, Tiffany Hadish, Iliza Shlesinger, Joe Rogan, Tim Allen, Sandra Bernhard, Whitney Cummings, Yakov Smirnoff, Paul Rodriguez, Bobby Lee, Howie Mandel, Tom Dreesen, Brian Holtzman, and many, many more!  What an array of interview subjects!

These interviews are intermixed with a delightfully rich array of archival footage of stand-up comedy performances from throughout the many decades of history of the Comedy Store.  I was impressed with the editing, and how often the show was able to cut from one comedian recalling a particular bit that they or someone else did on stage at the Store, to an actual clip of that bit being performed.

The series is very leisurely paced.  That could be seen as a downside for some.  Personally, I enjoyed the time Mr. Binder spent allowing these very funny people to tell their stories.  I did, though, find that I often wouldn’t watch a full episode in one sitting.  This was a show that I enjoyed watching in shorter 30-40 minute blocks.  (The specific divisions between the episodes aren’t that important, so I often found myself watching, say, the last 20 minutes of one episode and then the first 15 minutes of the next, before pausing to continue another day.)

Mr. Binder allows himself to appear frequently on screen, as we see him conversing with his interview subjects.  Sometimes I find it distracting when the documentary’s maker appears on-screen, but here I thought it worked.  I enjoyed the conversational flow of the series.  Mr. Binder’s personal connection with so many of these … [continued]

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Josh Reviews For All Mankind Season Two!

I am a huge fan of Apple TV’s For All Mankind.  This show seems to be flying way under the pop culture radar, but it’s one of the best science fiction dramas I have seen in years.  I highly recommend this series, which just completed its second season!  (Click here for my review of season one.)

For All Mankind depicts an alternate history in which the United States lost the “space race” with the Soviet Union, with the U.S.S.R. becoming the first nation to land a man on the moon in 1969.  As an American who has always been very proud of this nation’s extraordinary accomplishments in the sixties with the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, this at first seemed like it would be a dystopian set-up.  But one of the (many) great delights of this series is that the show has trended utopian.

Not everything is sun and roses on the show.  Bad things happen.  Towards the end of this second season we see a series of events unfold that seem many levels more terrifying than even the hairiest moments of the Cold War in our “real” world.  But I love that the alternate history depicted on the show is, in many ways, a preferable future to the one we’ve been living through!  It’s fascinating to see, for example, how the continuing competition between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in space pushes both nations to achieve technological innovations; to push the frontiers of space explorations; and — in the U.S. at least — to new opportunities for women and African Americans.  In fact, Ronald D. Moore (one of the three creators of the show, along with Matt Wolpert and Ben Nedivi), in a recent interview, described For All Mankind as “the road to Star Trek.”  That idea really tickles my fancy!!  I love thinking about the events of this series as what might have eventually led the way to Gene Roddenberry’s enduring utopian vision of the future.

(There’s a lot of wonderful Star Trek DNA in this show.  Beyond the involvement of Mr. Moore himself — who wrote extensively for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — there were many other Trek alum involved.  For instance, David Thompson and Bradley Weddle, who were DS9 writers who also worked with Mr. Moore on Battlestar Galactica, wrote two episodes this season.  Maril Davis was a production associate on Next Gen and DS9.  And I was delighted to see Joe Menosky, who wrote extensively for Next Gen and then Voyager, write a script this season.  Trek even sneaks onto the actual show itself!  I smiled when Wrath of Khan was came up — … [continued]

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News Around the Net!

April 30th, 2021

Let’s start with this terrific first trailer for Marvel’s Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings:

That looks great!!  I can’t wait to see some new MCU films!!!

Speaking of Marvel, this is a very funny trailer for Marvel’s new animated M.O.D.O.K. show, starring Patton Oswalt:

Oh, man, am I going to have to start paying for Hulu now??  That looks right up my alley.

Billy Crystal and Tiffany Hadish in a buddy comedy?  OK, I’m interested…!  Here’s a trailer for Here Today:

Here’s another offbeat looking comedy — Nikole Beckwith’s film Together Together, starring Ed Helms and Patti Harrison:

This interesting-looking trailer for the second season of Netflix’s animated anthology series Love Death + Robots reminds me that I still need to watch season one…!!

I’m pleased to read that Richard Lewis will be appearing in an episode of the upcoming eleventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm!  Originally it had been announced that Mr. Lewis’ health was preventing him from being in the show.

Click here for a wonderfully in-depth oral history of the making of Mystery Science Theatre 3000: The Movie.  I can’t believe that movie is 25 years old!!  I have a very warm spot in my heart for it.  It’s one of my favorite MST3K installments.

Speaking of MST3K, it’s not too late to back their kickstarter effort to make new episodes!  (I did!)

Here’s another interesting crowdfunding project: an indiegogo campaign for In Search of Tomorrow, which aims to be the definitive documentary about 1980s sci-fi films.  I backed this project, too!

I loved this small spotlight given to Peter Sanderson, who was the main writer for The official Handbook of the Marvel Universe as well as DC’s Who’s Who, two wonderful resource series from the eighties/nineties that I dearly loved.

Olivia Colman is in talks to join Marvel’s Secret Invasion Disney+ series with Samuel L. Jackson?  Right on!

Click here for a great Rolling Stone list of 25 essential jack Nicholson movies.  There are some great-sounding films on this list that I need to find time to see…!!

Thanks, as always, for reading!  Have a great weekend.

Click here to purchase my “Maclunkey” Star Wars/Highlander mash-up t-shirt!

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Josh Reviews The New Mutants

The New Mutants film, directed by Josh Boone and written by Mr. Boone and Knate Lee, was originally filmed back in 2017.  It was meant to be a spin-off of Fox’s X-Men film series, telling the story of a group of teenagers trapped in a hospital for young mutants whose powers are out of control.  But the film’s release date was rescheduled multiple times, and there were lots of rumors in the press about plans for reshoots to adjust the direction and tone of the film.  (To the best of my understanding, those reshoots never happened.)  Then the X-Men series flamed out (with the very bad Dark Phoenix film).  Then Disney bought Fox.  Then the pandemic happened.  The film was finally released to theaters last summer, at the end of August, 2020.  I certainly wasn’t going to a movie theater during a pandemic, but a few months back I caught up with the film on streaming.

I wish I could report that this was a misunderstood film whose release was bungled, but I’m afraid I found it as mediocre as I’d expected it to be.  At the same time, the film isn’t the catastrophe one might have expected for a major studio movie that was buried for several years.  Josh Boone & co. clearly had a very specific vision for this film: to take these superhero characters and put them into a horror movie setting.  While the X-Men movies tended to be large-scale big-budget spectacles, The New Mutants was designed to be a very small-scale story, with a small cast in a confined setting, set very much in a real-world environment (with no super-hero costumes to be found).  I can understand the appeal of those ideas.  And it’s not impossible that this could have worked.

But as executed, I found The New Mutants to be underwhelming.  It’s disappointing to see these great comic book characters brought to the screen in this small-scale, low-budget way.  I might have been happy with this interpretation twenty years ago.  But now, after twenty-plus amazing MCU movies, it bums me out to see great super-hero characters depicted in this manner.  It feels as if the filmmakers didn’t have faith in the original characters and concepts, and so they felt they had to strip away all the super-hero, comic-book trappings.  That’s a disappointment.

But it still could have worked, if the character dramas were compelling and interesting.  Unfortunately, while I loved the cast (more on this in a moment), I didn’t find too much to grab hold of in the film.  The characters felt thinly sketched to me.  I didn’t lock into any of their stories or arcs nearly as deeply as I’d hoped.… [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

April 26th, 2021

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the second MCU TV show to be released on Disney+.  In this six-episode mini-series, Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan reprise their roles from the MCU as, respectively Sam Wilson (the Falcon) and Bucky Barnes (the Winter Soldier).  At the end of Avengers: Endgame, an elderly Steve Rogers gave his shield to Sam.  But as this show opens, we see that Sam doesn’t feel he’s worthy of stepping into Steve’s shoes as Captain America.  He thinks the shield should be put in the Smithsonian, but the government decides to give the shield to a new Captain America: a soldier named John Walker (Wyatt Russell).  Bucky, meanwhile, is still wrestling with guilt over the atrocities he committed as the Winter Soldier, and he’s hurt by what he sees as Sam’s shirking of the role Steve had given him.  Sam and Bucky are pulled together by the threat of a new terrorist organization, made up of people who feel disenfranchised and ignored following the return to existence of half of the world’s population (when the Avengers undid Thanos’ snap at the end of Endgame).

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a solid, thoroughly enjoyable series.  With WandaVision and now this, Kevin Feige & co. have successfully done what Marvel’s initial ABC experiment (which began with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) and the Marvel Netflix shoes were unable to do: create Marvel TV shows that are both entertaining and satisfying on their own, and at the same time fit seamlessly within the continuity of the MCU films.  This is an impressive achievement.

This show isn’t as groundbreaking as WandaVision.  That series was delightfully bold in the way it played with the conventions of the medium (of TV shows).  The Falcon and the Winter Soldier isn’t nearly as adventurous.  This is a buddy-movie action-adventure.  It’s fun and enjoyable but not exactly groundbreaking in its storytelling.  (And its finale was wobblier than I’d hoped… more on that later…)

Just as WandaVision was able to give Wanda and Vision the type of focus and character development they hadn’t been able to get as peripheral characters in the movies, so too is it fantastic to see Sam and Bucky get to step front and center here in this show.  Anthony Mackie and Sebastian Stan really step up.  I love these characters, and both actors really shine in the show.

I was surprised and impressed by the degree to which this series explored the complexities of the idea of a black man becoming Captain America.  No previous MCU project has come anywhere close to digging into such real world issues.  But showrunner Malcolm Spellman and his team used the story of this … [continued]

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Star Trek: A Time For War, A Time For Peace

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s A Time for War, A Time for Peace is the ninth and final novel in Pocket Books’ “A Time to…” series, released back in 2004, that depicted the year leading up to the events of the final TNG movie, Nemesis.  I’ve been enjoying this series, and Mr. DeCandido’s book brings the story to a very satisfying end.

This might be my favorite book in the series, despite the fact that not much that seems that momentous happens in the book.  All of the big, actiony, universe-shaking stuff happened in David Mack’s A Time to Kill, A Time to Heal duology.  This novel feels like an epilogue to the series.  But perhaps that’s why I enjoyed it so much.  This is a much less intense book than Mr. Mack’s previous two, but that allows Mr. DeCandido room to explore these characters as we dig into the repercussions of the events chronicled in the previous eight books.

My favorite aspect of this book was its focus on the behind-the-scenes politics of the United Federation of Planets.  Following the resignation of Federation president Min Zife at the end of the previous novel, we follow the campaign between two candidates for the presidency: Nan Bacco and Fel Pagro.  Now, going into this book, I knew who won.  One of my favorite Star Trek novels of all time is Mr. DeCandido’s Articles of the Federation, which chronicles the first year in Nan Bacco’s presidency, and was written a year after this book.  Articles of the Federation is an astonishing novel, one that explores a whole universe of Star Trek that we’d never before seen.  All of the Trek TV series focused on Starfleet and Starfleet officers, but Starfleet is just one branch of the United Federation of Planets.  Articles of the Federation digs deeply into an exploration of how the government of the Federation actually operates.  It’s magnificent.  I’d assumed that Nan Bacco, her Chief of Staff Esperanze Piniera, and many of the other characters in her administration were created for Articles of the Federation, but lo and behold, Nan and many of these characters actually originated here in A Time for War, A Time for Peace.  Wow!  I loved getting to read this previously unknown (to me, at least!) chapter of their story.  I love how Mr. DeCandido started building the stories here that he’d later explore more thoroughly in Articles of the Federation.

We hadn’t seen too much of Worf in this series so far, but this book gave him some great stuff, particularly the way he was able to single-handedly thwart a terrorist assault on the Federation embassy on Qo’noS.  It’s a great spotlight for Worf, the greatest … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Truth Seekers Season One

I’m a huge fan of Spaced, the British TV show starring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and directed by Edgar Wright, that ran from 1999-2001.  And of course I enjoyed the “Cornetto Trilogy” of movies (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End).  And so I was excited to see Nick Frost and Simon Pegg re-team for a new TV series: Truth Seekers, a horror/comedy series about a group of internet technicians who explore the paranormal.

Truth Seekers was created by Mr. Frost, Mr. Pegg, and James Serafinowicz and Nat Saunders.  All four are the credited writers on the season’s eight half-hour episodes; all eight were directed by Jim Field Smith.

Nick Frost is the main character, the good-natured but slightly haunted (literally and figuratively) Gus.  Gus works for Smyle, a large internet company; he’s their best technician.  When not at work, Gus posts “Truth Seekers” internet videos, in which he investigates paranormal and other spooky stories and places.  It’s a lot of fun to see Mr. Frost in the central role!  He’s great; effortlessly funny and dramatic.  (The series calls on him to alternate between both tones, and he makes it looks beautifully naturalistic.)  Samson Kayo plays Elton John, the young Smyle employee assigned to Gus as his new partner.  Elton has no interest in the paranormal, but for some reason he seems to be a magnet for it, much to Gus’ delight.  Mr. Kayo is great fun as the beleaguered Elton; I loved his chemistry with Mr. Frost.  Emma D’Arcy plays Astrid, a young woman whose real-life experiences with ghosts brings her into the path of Gus and Elton.  I didn’t feel the show’s stories gave Astrid as much depth as Gus and Elton, but Ms. D’Arcy was very endearing and charismatic in the role.  These three actors together made a great group.  They made a solid core trio for the show.  Each was interesting in their own way, and I also liked how they felt more like normal every-day people than the main characters in TV shows often do.

Simon Pegg has a small role in the show as David, the head of Smyle.  Mr. Pegg is very funny as always, and I liked the way the show slowly broadened David’s role in the stories as the season progressed.  Then there’s the great Malcolm McDowell, who played Richard, Gus’ codger-like father-in-law.  Mr. McDowell was phenomenal!!  He was my favorite character on the show!  Mr. McDowell was absolutely perfect as this gruff old fellow who has a good heart buried deep down beneath.  I loved this character.  He’s a big reason to watch this show.

I also enjoyed Susie Wokoma as Helen, Elton John’s anxious … [continued]

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