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Josh Reviews the SyFy Channel Adaptation of Childhood’s End

June 18th, 2018

Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, first published in 1953, is a magnificent novel, a triumph of science fiction that is riveting and heartbreaking. It’s a ripe subject for adaptation, and I’m pleased that I had a chance to catch up with the SyFy channel’s three-part, four-plus hour mini-series adaptation, which originally aired in December, 2015.

The miniseries, like the novel, begins when enormous spaceships descend over major cities worldwide.  Though mankind at first fears the alien visitors, who the people of the world dub the “overlords”, the aliens — through their spokesperson, Karellen — vow to help humanity eliminate war, poverty, pollution, and all the other ills facing the planet.  And they do!  In so doing, they help humanity transition to — well, that would be telling!

The miniseries is a very solid and enjoyable, if not exactly spectacular, adaptation of Mr. Clarke’s wonderful original story.  The production values are (mostly) impressive and the cast is (mostly) great.  The writers made significant changes, but they (mostly) preserved the flavor of Mr. Clarke’s original story and the most important beats of the tale.

Mr. Clarke’s story is divided into three sections, which fits nicely with the miniseries’ three-part structure.  However, while Mr. Clarke’s novel takes place over about a century, the miniseries unsurprisingly condences the bulk of story into around twenty years, so they can have the same actors playing the same characters from start to finish. I can understand this choice, though I think the book’s timing makes more sense, as it stretches credulity that everything that transpires in the story happens across only twenty-to-twenty five years.  Also, they don’t make any effort to age the actors at all, which is weird. The young farm couple Ricky & Ellie look about 30 at the start of the story and still look exactly the same at the end, two-plus decades later.  It’s distracting.  (They throw in a line about how the improvements to the planet have caused people to age more slowly, but still, it’s extremely silly that everyone looks exactly the same a quarter century later.)  (I also think they lose the effect that recasting some of the characters to be played by older actors in the later parts would have given the story.  The climax would have been more effective had we felt this story as a generational tale, as the novel was.)

For the most part, I thought the mini-series looked great.  The visual effects of the Overlords’ ships, and the handful of other outer-space effects shots, and also the brief glimpses we get of the Overlords’ home planet, were all very well done.  This is an epic story, and for the most part I felt the mini-series … [continued]

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“I Always Wondered How This Was Gonna End” — Josh Reviews the (Series?) Finale of The X-Files

June 14th, 2018
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After a weak opening episode, I have been very impressed by how great the subsequent eight, mostly stand-alone episodes of The X-Files season eleven have been!  Click here for my review of episodes 1-3, here for my review of episodes 4-6, and here for my review of episodes 7-9.  And now, on to the finale:

My Struggle IV — After the beautiful ending of “Nothing Lasts Forever,” I was bracing myself for a return to the terrible with the finale.  The previous three “My Struggle” episodes by Chris Carter (that opened and closed the 2016 season, and that opened this new season) have all been a mess.  It’s remarkable to me how, for the longest time during the show’s prime, the mythology episodes were so spectacular and it was the monster-of-the-week episodes that, even when they were great, often stretched my patience.  But in these two revival seasons, the mythology episodes have been disastrous and the stand-alone monster-of-the-week episodes have been far more successful and entertaining (particularly in this season).

“My Struggle IV” isn’t quite as catastrophically bad as the previous three “My Struggle” episodes have been, but it’s still a disappointingly wobbly ending to the season and, perhaps, the show.

The episode opens with a narration from Mulder and Scully’s son William.  (Since the first three “My Struggle” episodes were narrated by, respectively, Mulder, Scully, and the CSM, I was really hoping that Skinner would get to open this one!!)  I was pleased to see William back in focus.  While I don’t think it’s been well-executed AT ALL, I can at least say that I was happy that these two revival seasons chose to pick up the story of Mulder and Scully’s baby, since that was a pretty huge thread left dangling from the original run.  Particularly in those final two original seasons (seasons eight and nine), we heard again and again and again that their baby was “important,” but we never understood why.

Sadly, we STILL don’t understand!!  Yes, William has psychic powers.  We knew that ever since we saw him as a baby moving the mobile above his crib.  But why does he have these powers, and why is this so important to CSM and all the other conspiracy people??  There have been plenty of super-powered people on the show before.  Why do they all “need” William for some reason?  What does any of this have to do with the alien plague that CSM threatens to unleash upon the world (and that we saw happen in “My Struggle II” which turned out to be, ugh, just a dream/prediction of the future by William and/or Scully)?  Why doesn’t the CSM unleash the plague if that … [continued]

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Josh Bids Farewell to The Americans!

I started watching The Americans very soon after I’d finished watching Breaking Bad, and right away from the pilot episode I was struck by the similarity of the set-up: Philip and Elizabeth Jennings had to hide their criminal activities from Stan Beeman, their FBI-agent neighbor, just as Walter White had to hide his criminal activities from Hank Schrader, his DEA agent brother-in law.  Of course, the two shows went in very different directions and turned out to have very different styles of story-telling.  (I loved them both!)  But as The Americans entered its sixth and final season, I wondered to what degree the endgame of the two shows would be similar.  The final run of episodes of Breaking Bad were among the series’ best — once Hank found out the truth about Walt, all bets were off and things got crazy.  Surely Stan would finally discover the Jennings’ secret before the end, right?  When would that happen, and what would happen once that revelation finally occurred??

What’s fascinating to me about this final season of The Americans is the way in which things unfolded not at all like how I’d expected — and yet, somehow, exactly in a way that, upon reflection, makes sense for this show and reflects the type of show this has been since the beginning, and the very specific, methodical way in which creator Joe Weinberg and his partner show-runner Joel Fields have told this story.

Breaking Bad went crazy in those final run of episodes — I found that final half-season to be a visceral, thrilling ride.  I’d expected The Americans to similarly ramp up the pace in this final ten episode season (all its previous seasons have been 13 episodes long), but instead, the show came back as the same show it had always been: a deep-dive into these characters and their lives, both personal and professional; steadily-paced and taking the time to show us all the details.  I was surprised at first that the show was taking so much time in this final run to introduce lots of new characters and situations for the espionage in which Philip and Elizabeth were engaging.  (Well, mostly Elizabeth, since the season began with Philip’s having been out of the game for three years.)  We spent a LOT of time in the early going this season with Sofia and Gennadi (the Russian hockey player) and with the dying artist Erica Haskard.

That’s a risky approach, but as I look back now on this final season, for the most part (and I’ll get to a few concerns in a moment), it worked!  I wasn’t impatient for The Americans to hurry up and get to the “good stuff,” … [continued]

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“Nothing Lasts Forever” — Josh Reviews the Final Episodes (For Now?) of The X-Files

Although I was not that taken by the 2016 six-episode relaunch of The X-Files, I found myself quite enjoying this year’s new batch of episodes.  Click here for my review of the first three episodes of this new 10-episode season, and click here for my review of episodes 3-6.  After a strong run of episodes, how did this season’s concluding installments turn out?  Read on…!

Rm9sbG93ZXJz — This is yet another strong stand-alone installment, as this new season continues to fire on all cylinders.  In this nearly dialogue-free episode, a mishap at an automated sushi restaurant leads to increasing peril for Mulder and Scully.  This is the X-Files’ version of a Black Mirror episode, a very plausible vision of a world right around the corner from our current reality, in which the increasing computerization and atomization in all of our lives, combined with our reliance on our phones and all of the technology in our homes, cars, offices, etc., might lead to negative, unintended consequences.  This is a very different style of X-Files episode, but I love this type of experimentation and I was delighted by this sort of alternate-universe X-Files episode (where the computerization of Mulder and Scully’s lives is just a few steps ahead of what we see today, thus giving us a frightening look at where all of our lives might be heading in the very near future).

Admittedly, this sort of stand-alone experiment would be even more delightful if we were actually getting ten new episodes of The X-Files annually for the foreseeable future, rather than these ten episodes quite possibly being the final episodes we will ever see.  I have commented repeatedly in my reviews of the 2016 season and this new season that Chris Carter and co. took the curious approach of these new episodes being a relaunch of the show, rather than the conclusion.  Whether we ever do actually get future seasons will determine whether or not we look back on this approach as a mistake and a huge missed opportunity for the closure the show never got at the end of its original run.  More on this later.

Meanwhile, this episode was filled with a number of lovely moments, from Scully’s security password (Queequeg!!) to Mulder’s (attempted) enjoyment of an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man.  I was intrigued to see Scully’s very nice apartment!  Though saddened that, despite the events of “Plus One” from earlier in the season, Mulder and Scully still live apart.  (Was their dinner together at the start of the episode a romantic date?  Or just friendly colleagues together at the end of a long work day?  The episode does not shed much light on this.)  … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Season Five of Brooklyn Nine-Nine!

In a tumultuous week right before its season five finale aired, Brooklyn Nine-Nine was unceremoniously cancelled by Fox… and then, a few days later, miraculously resurrected by NBC who announced that they’d be picking up the show for a thirteen-episode sixth season.  Huzzah!!

I was devastated when I thought the show was dead and gone.  Over the last five years, Brooklyn Nine-Nine has grown into one of my very favorite TV comedies.  It’s not edgy and it might not be groundbreaking “genius” comedy — but it has grown into the very best sort of TV comfort food: consistently hilarious and filled with characters with whom I absolutely adore spending time.

I realized, in those days in which I thought the show was cancelled, that I had been taking Brooklyn Nine-Nine for granted!  Though the show has popped up on my end-of-the-year lists of my favorite episodes of TV, I haven’t ever given it one of my regular season-ending reviews that I write about almost every other show I watch.  It’s time to stop ignoring this show!

Brooklyn Nine-Nine was created by Dan Goor and Michael Schur.  Mr. Goor worked on The Daily Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and Parks and Recreation.  Mr. Schur was a key creative player on the American version of The Office, he co-created Parks and Recreation with Greg Daniels (and served as the primary show-runner), and he also created The Good Place.  Looking back, I can see why Brooklyn Nine-Nine has slipped through the cracks for me, despite the fact that I’ve been enjoying it for so many years now.  The show doesn’t have the attention-grabbing hooks of The Good Place’s twists, or the way Parks and Rec’s gloriously large and unhinged ensemble served as a sort-of live-action version of The Simpsons.  Those two shows, along with The Office, all seemed like cutting-edge “cool” comedies that drew a lot more attention.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine never quite had that.  From the beginning, it felt a little squarer, a little more family-friendly, a little less boundary-pushing.  But the show has blossomed into a true comedic gem, with an ensemble as skilled as any on TV today and one that can go head-to-head with any of the other shows I just listed above (and many beyond those).

Andy Samberg is terrific in the lead role of Detective Jake Peralta.  Mr. Samberg demonstrated back in 2012 with Celeste and Jesse Forever that he had acting chops, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine perfectly utilizes his comedic talents and his man-child persona.  Mr. Sandberg effortlessly anchors the show, and remains one of the funniest elements of it.  The key casting coup of the show is Andre Braugher as … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Silicon Valley Season Five!

I was somewhat late to the party with Silicon Valley, but I loved the show when I started watching it last year, and I quickly devoured the first four seasons.  I was so happy that I didn’t have too long to wait before season five.  As the season begins, the Pied Piper gang are hard at work on bringing Richard’s “new internet” idea to life, and they are once again locked in competition with Gavin Belson’s Hooli, who is working on a very different type of technology, Gavin’s “signature box 3”.

Season five of Silicon Valley represents an interesting point in the life of the show.  There was a comedic and creative spark to the first several seasons that isn’t quite present now — that joy of discovery of the “new” is gone now (at least for me), as the show has settled into a comfortable middle-age.  The narrative wheel-spinning is somewhat more pronounced than it was in the early years, as the show has to keep this gang of misfits struggling and failing (in order to preserve the basic set-up of the show), in a way that can feel somewhat frustrating after five years of watching these characters and wanting them to succeed.

On the other hand, this latest batch of eight episodes is fantastic, filled with some truly great and very funny comedic moments.  I love these characters at this point (even a “villain” like Gavin Belson), and it remains great fun to be in these characters’ company and to follow their continuing misadventures.  So while the show might not feel quite as fresh as it once did, there is clearly still plenty of comedic life left in this show and its premise and characters.

At only eight episodes long, season five of Silicon Valley is the shortest season since the first year (seasons two, three and four had ten episodes each), and so the season zips along at a fast clip and doesn’t outstay its welcome.  Quite the contrary, at the end of episode eight I was bummed that there weren’t more episodes to watch immediately!!

T.J. Miller was written off the show at the end of season four.  This concerned me when the news broke, as Mr. Miller had been a key member of the ensemble.  It’s usually a bad sign when main characters leave TV shows, “rats leaving a sinking ship” and all, and the show that remains is often not quite the same.  But I must say, while I loved Mr. Miller on this show, I didn’t miss him at all.  Season five still has a large and highly-skilled ensemble, and so there were plenty of characters and story-lines to more than carry … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Solo!

Solo takes place in the years prior to the original Star Wars, when the galaxy is still under the thumb of the Empire.  Young Han and his friend Qi’ra (pronounced like Kira, which makes me think of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) have grown up in the slums of Corellia, scrounging a meager existence as thieves for an alien criminal called Lady Proxima.  When an escape attempt goes awry, Han manages to hitch a ride off-planet, but Qi’ra is left behind.  Han vows to return for her, but his plan to join the Imperial navy and become a pilot is thwarted when he’s kicked out of the flight academy for, as he puts it, having a mind of his own.  The result is that Han winds up as a Stormtrooper grunt, fighting the Empire’s wars in the dirt of a nameless world.  But when Han discovers a group of thieves, led by a man named Tobias Beckett, hidden among the Imperials, he sees at last his ticket to freedom.  And so the story of Solo begins.

Ever since plans were first announced, years ago, for a Young Han Solo movie, I thought it was a bad idea.  As a rule I am not a fan of prequels — I’d prefer the story go forward rather than backwards.  And while Rogue One, for instance, expanded upon a part of the Star Wars story about which I was eager to know more (just how DID the rebels get their hands on the Death Star plans in the first place?), I have never craved to know what Han Solo was like as a kid or young man.  The beauty of the character as introduced in the original Star Wars is that I feel we knew everything we needed to know about him.  What was interesting to me was not where he’d been, but how his crossing paths with Luke Skywalker, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Leia Organa would change his life, and vice versa.

Having seen Solo, I still feel that way.  This is not a movie that needs to exist.  I have never needed to know the origin of Han’s blaster, or those dice on the Millennium Falcon, or how Han got the last name “Solo,” or exactly how and why Han first met Chewie, or how Han acquired the Falcon from Lando, etc.

That being said, though, I was pleased by how much I enjoyed Solo.  It’s a fun, fast-paced movie with some great action, some nice character work, and lots fun connections to the broader Star Wars saga.  I still think the basic concept of the film is a bad idea, but if Lucasfilm was going to make a Young Han … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Deadpool 2

I feel about Deadpool 2 about the same way I felt about the first Deadpool: it’s a lot of fun and extremely well-made for what it is — a Mad Magazine version of a superhero movie.  That’s a compliment, as I hold Mad Magazine in the highest regard.  Twelve-year-old me didn’t think there was anything funnier than Mad Magazine, and I bet I’d have thought the same about these two Deadpool films.  They’re not exactly what I’m looking for in a superhero movie these days — a little too juvenile, a little too raunchy — but if you enjoyed the first Deadpool, I suspect you will love the sequel.  (Personally, I think I actually liked this sequel more than the original, which I was lukewarm on.)

Ryan Reynolds is again terrific in the lead role, and I love the way his Deadpool continues to be Bugs Bunny-like agent of chaos in the film (albeit an R-rated one!), unable to be destroyed and constantly commenting on everything going on around him.  The fast-talking Mr. Reynolds is very, very funny as this character.

Josh Brolin plays Cable, a super-soldier from the future come back in time to kill a super powered young Mutant before he wreaks havoc in the future.  Mr. Brolin is terrific, a great straight-man against Mr. Reynolds’ lunacy as Deadpool.  (Between this and his role as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War, Mr. Brolin is king of the superheroes this summer!!)  He also looks the part: the character-design of Cable in this film is perfect, a fantastic distillation of Cable’s iconic design (while losing some of the crazier aspects of the way the characters is sometimes drawn in the comics).  Mr. Brolin is so great as Cable that I sort of wish he was playing the character in a “real,” straight X-Men film as opposed to this silly one!!

The rest of the cast is strong.  Morena Baccarin, Karan Soni, T.J. Miller, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić, and Leslie Uggams all return from the first film and all have some fun stuff to do.  (Well, mostly. SPOILER ALERT FOR THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH.  The film makes the unfortunate choice to write out Morena Baccarin’s character early-on, which strikes me as incredibly lazy.  Attention writers:  a strong, smart, funny woman COULD have been incorporated into this film’s story!  It’s cheap and lazy, and a waste of the great Ms. Baccarin, that her character was “fridged” so quickly.  (Google “women in refrigerators” if you don’t know what I mean when I refer to that unfortunate comic book trope.) They do sort of undo this in the closing credits, so I hope that if there is a Deadpool 3, Ms. Baccarin … [continued]

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