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Josh Reviews Avenue 5 Season One

Avenue 5 is a sci-fi comedy series created by Veep creator Armando Iannucci.  Set sometime in the future, the show depicts the fallout from an accident aboard the Avenue 5, a space-ship cruise-ship, that turns their five-week cruise into a years-long journey.

I loved Veep and I love sci-fi, so a sci-fi comedy from the creator of Veep was of course something I wanted to see.  The series is funny and I enjoyed watching it.  But it’s not nearly as funny as I’d expected, based on Mr. Iannucci’s involvement and the spectacular cast (that includes Hugh Laurie, Josh Gad, Zach Woods, and many more terrific comedic performers).

Each and every episode made me laugh.  Is that enough to recommend this short (nine half-hour episodes) first season?  Perhaps.  And yet, in almost every episode there was also something that felt somewhat off about the storytelling, as if the many great components of this show weren’t quite clicking together.  A few examples: In the first episode, for quite a while I thought Josh Gad was playing some sort of rock and roll star, a pampered and privileged celebrity aboard the Avenue 5, when in fact he was playing the cruise-line’s owner.  It feels to me like the storytelling should have made that much clearer; and that the show should have given us a reason why the company’s super-rich owner was traveling on board this cruise ship.  Here’s another example: it feels to me like the show should have been able to get a lot more comedic mileage out of the idea that the ships’ head of customer relations, played by Zach Woods, would have a meltdown after the accident hits and his carefully-run cruise ship collapses into chaos.  But that doesn’t really happen, because that character is played as an unhinged loon right from the beginning of the first episode, when we see him being very rude and impatient with the (admittedly demanding and obnoxious) passengers.  So there’s no arc.  Mr. Woods is funny, as always, but it feels like a missed opportunity.

Also, I know the show is a comedy, but it feels like there are too many plot questions the show doesn’t bother to address.  How is it that there is only one engineer on the entire ship (Joe, who meets an untimely demise a few minutes into the first episode) who seems to know anything about how to actually run the ship?  (OK, two engineers: Lenora Crichlow’s Billie is also competent.)  The show could have intended to made an Idiocracy-like point about no one in the near future knowing anything about anything (or how Wall-E, which has a similar premise regarding trouble on an idyllic, futuristic cruiseliner-like … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons 5 and 6!

Earlier this year, I had a great deal of fun catching up with Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ fantastic show, Veep!  (Click here for my review of seasons 1 & 2, and click here for my review of seasons 3 & 4.)  After the conclusion of season four, the show’s creator and show-runner Armando Iannucci took a step back from running the show.  Taking over as show-runner was David Mandel.  I was a big fan of Mr. Mandel’s work from the later seasons of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm.  (He also ran the brilliant but little-seen six-episode animated series based on Kevin Smith’s Clerks from 2000.  Only two episodes of the show ever aired, but all six were released to DVD and they’re great.  Also, Mr. Mandel’s commentary track for all six episodes, along with Kevin Smith, was just as much fun as the episodes themselves!)

David Mandel would go on to run the three final seasons of Veep.  He did a terrific job, maintaining consistency with what Mr. Iannucci had established as the tone of the show while also allowing his own specific comedic sensibilities to come into play.  The David Mandel seasons of Veep were, I think, even faster-paced that the previous seasons, and the characters all seemed to get even more hilariously awful (as hard as that might be to believe, based on their behavior in seasons one through four).

Under both the Iannucci and Mandel administrations, Veep was a fantastic show.  It’s a biting, devastating satire of the American political system.  It’s a workplace comedy.  It was a fast-paced joke machine, brought to life by an extraordinary comedic ensemble.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus has forever cemented her position as one of the finest comedic actresses of all time; her perfect, unbeatable comedic timing was on display in every second she was on-screen here.  But then look at this deep bench: Tony Hale as Gary; Anna Chlumsky as Amy; Reid Scott as Dan; Matt Walsh as Mike; Sufe Bradshaw as Sue; Timothy Simons as Jonah; Sam Richardson as Richard Splett; Gary Cole as Kent; Kevin Dunn as Ben; Sarah Sutherland as Catherine; Clea DuVall as Marjorie; and Hugh Laurie as Tom James.  Wowsers!!  I love each and every one of those characters, and I could not imagine any other actor bringing any of these roles to life.

OK, let’s dive into seasons five and six…!

At the end of season four, we left Selina Meyer in an electoral college tie for the Presidency.  At the time, that seemed like a stretch to me; a writerly device to keep Selina stuck in the weird middle ground of great-power/no-power that she’d inhabited since the show began.  I still think that way, but I … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Veep Seasons 3 and 4!

Last year I finally found the time to start watching Veep, Armando Iannucci’s raunchy Washington satire, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Vice President Selina Meyer.  I loved the first two seasons, and I was eager to continue with the show!

Julia Louis-Dreyfus continues to be perfection as the petty, narcissistic, power-hungry Selina.  This is a spectacular performance, and Ms. Louis-Dreyfus deserves all of the accolades she has received for her work on this show!  The entire ensemble is spectacular.  I love the group of borderline incompetents Selina has gathered around herself: Tony Hale as Gary, Anna Chlumsky as Amy, Reid Scott as Dan, Matt Walsh as Mike, and Sufe Bradshaw as Sue.  Season two added Kevin Dunn as Ben and Gary Cole as Kent, and at this point I could not imagine the show without those two weirdos.  Speaking of weirdos, of course, there is Timothy Simons as Jonah Ryan, the loudmouthed doofus constantly flitting in and out of Selina & co.’s orbit.  There’s also Sarah Sutherland as Selina’s much put-upon daughter, Catherine.  What a powerhouse ensemble!!

Season three adds Sam Richardson to the group as the pleasantly dim Richard Splett.  Richard enters the show by filling in for Gary on Selina’s book tour (where he proves to be a huge annoyance for her), and he continues to stick around in a variety of roles.  Mr. Richardson is so funny as this character!!  I also really enjoyed Diedrich Bader as Bill Ericsson, a campaign manager Selina considers hiring instead of Amy or Dan.  Another great addition was Christopher Meloni as Selina’s new personal trainer, Ray.  (Selina quickly starts sleeping with Ray, to the chagrin of most of her staff, particularly Gary.)

Season three charts Selina’s campaign for the job she has always longed for: the presidency.  The show mines a lot of fun out of the rituals of a modern-day campaign, from Selina’s book-tour through Iowa to the announcement of her campaign to the media furor when Selina tries out a different haircut.  I was also pleased that Danny Chung (Randall Park) and George Maddox (Isiah Whitlock) continued to appear, as Selina’s main opponents in pursuit of the presidency.

That Jonah could hold down a job in the White House seemed somewhat absurd to me, so I enjoyed that season three began with him out of work, trying to get back into a position of importance by starting a political gossip blog (“Ryantology”).  It’s a fantastic commentary on the media landscape that Jonah’s profane, the-truth-is-irrelevant style would allow him to succeed in this type of role!!

Other great moments in season three: Watching Amy and Dan fiercely compete over who gets to be Selina’s campaign manager; seeing Gary thrown into … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Night Manager

The Night Manager is a six-episode mini-series based on the novel by John le Carré.  The adaptation was directed by Susanne Bier (who just won an emmy for her work directing this mini-series) and written by David Farr (a writer who also worked on the British TV show Spooks, called MI:5 here in the U.S.).

TheNightManager.cropped

Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) is a former soldier who now works as the night manager at a fancy hotel in Cairo.  One night, the beautiful mistress of a powerful Egyptian man gives Jonathan evidence that her husband is involved in arms sales to terrorists.  Jonathan manages to pass this info on to an old friend in the British military, but this action winds up getting the woman, with whom Jonathan has fallen in love, killed.  Jonathan flees Cairo, adopts a new name, and tries to forget everything that happened and begin a new live in isolation in Switzerland.  But a chance encounter brings Jonathan face to face with the man he believes responsible for his lover’s death: the wealthy British CEO Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie).  Believing that this man who purports to be a social justice warrior is actually someone who profits off of death and destruction across the globe, Jonathan agrees to work with an outsider British intelligence officer in an attempt to infiltrate Richard Roper’s organization and bring him down.

As can be expected from a story based on the work of John le Carré, The Night Manager is a wonderfully tense, twisty spy caper.  It takes a little while for the story to get moving, but once Jonathan has come face to face with Roper and begun to earn his trust and get inside his operation, the show really comes to life.  The charisma and chemistry between Mr. Hiddleston and Mr. Laurie is tremendous, and it’s great fun watching these two intelligent men cagily circle one another.  This sort of story only works if you believe that a) the mole is smart enough and clever enough to have a chance to actually succeed in infiltrating the bad guy’s operation without getting immediately found out, and b) that the bad guy is smart enough and clever enough to be fully capable of discovering what the hero is really up to, thus giving the story exciting dramatic tension.  The Night Manager succeeds on both counts wonderfully.

The story is leisurely paced but that works well in allowing us to gradually discover these characters and the world they live in.  Once Jonathan is in and the screws start to tighten, I was thoroughly hooked.  Six episodes feels like the perfect length for this story.  It’s long enough to allow for greater complexity, and a more … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Tomorrowland

Brad Bird is one of my favorite directors, and so I was excited by the prospect of a new film with him at the helm.  I was also intrigued to see what would result from combining his voice with that of Damon Lindeloff (showrunner of Lost) and Jeff Jensen (a great writer for Entertainment Weekly who shares story credit on the film).  Sadly Tomorrowland is a disappointment, a bland all-ages film that has a few fun moments but otherwise fails to leave much of an impact.

Disney's TOMORROWLAND..Casey (Britt Robertson) ..Ph: Film Frame..?Disney 2015

In 1964, young Frank Walker brings the jetpack he invented to the World’s Fair.  He catches the eye of a young girl named Athena, who helps him find the secret entrance (in Disney’s “It’s a Small World” ride, a nice touch) to a fantastic, futuristic world.  (The “Tomorrowland” of the title, get it?)  Cut to years later, when a teenaged girl named Casey encounters Athena, who mysteriously hasn’t aged a day.  Athena gives Casey a Tomorrowland pin which gives her glimpses of the magical Tomorrowland, and then sets Casey on the path to meet Frank, now a middle-aged man (played by George Clooney) who was banished from Tomorrowland years ago.

I don’t automatically assume that a movie based on something from a Disney theme park will be bad (enough people certainly loved the first Pirates of the Caribbean, though I was never a huge fan), though a movie with such a mercenary origin does tend to inspire some doubt.  Ultimately one of Tomorrowland’s many weaknesses is that we get to spend so little time exploring the actual Tomorrowland itself.

Brad Bird has always made all-ages films.  One of his main skills has been the adult way he has approached those films, refusing to dumb them down for an “all audiences” approach.  His films can be enjoyed by kids and adults alike, and they have always been chock full of humor and heart, with rich characters and real dramatic stakes.  Sadly, Tomorrowland has almost none of those things.  Any edge or sense of drama or danger has been sanded off the film.  There’s never any sense that the characters are in any real danger.  More importantly, there are no real emotional stakes for any of the characters.  Casey starts off the movie happy and well-adjusted and ends the film the same way.  Athena is, by her very nature, unchanging.  And although George Clooney’s Frank is supposed to be a broken man when we first meet him as a grown-up, George Clooney doesn’t give the character any real darkness.  He’s gruff but it doesn’t feel like real anger or bitterness, just a charismatic fellow playing at being gruff.  George Clooney can be a great actor … [continued]