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Josh Reviews Amazon’s Adaptation of Good Omens

This past summer, Amazon released a six-episode adaptation of Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, the wonderful novel by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.  I love the novel.  It’s a deliriously funny, clever romp that reminds me very much of the work of Douglas Adams.  The mini-series, like the novel, charts the unlikely friendship between an angel, Aziraphale, and a demon, Crowley.  When the Antichrist is born on Earth, and the sides of Heaven and Hell ready for war, Aziraphale and Crowley, having grown to quite like life on Earth, realize they have no choice but to work together to try to prevent the end of the world.

In the mini-series adaptation, Michael Sheen plays Aziraphale and David Tennant plays Crowley.  This is genius casting for both characters, and what I liked best about this mini-series was seeing these two characters brought to life so well, and watching them bounce off one another.  Both Mr. Sheen and Mr. Tennant are absolutely perfect, and they both have tremendous comedic timing which is put to good use here.  I loved their scenes together.  I was particularly taken by episode three, “Hard Times,” one of the few times in which the show diverged from the novel, showing us the history of Crowley & Aziraphale’s strange friendship over the centuries, from Noah’s ark through the time of Jesus to the modern day.

This mini-series is one of those curious projects which is incredibly faithful to the source material and yet still, somehow, winds up missing the certain spark that made the source material so special.  The mini-series lacks the comedic pulse of the novel, and its light tone.  Most importantly, the novel is so, so funny, and unfortunately the mini-series isn’t.  It’s a shame, because I was generally impressed with how carefully they adapted the story.  The six-episode length gave the show plenty of time to fit in almost all of the novel’s many twists and turns.  They even included the narration, using the great Frances McDormand to play the narrating voice of God.  This inclusion of the narration is a great example of where the mini-series wound up going just a tad bit astray.  Including the narration — unusual for a TV show to have — allows the mini-series to include many of the book’s best jokes.  But on the other hand, I found the narration slowed down the show and prevented me as an audience member for connecting as deeply with the characters as I might have expected.  The narration kept me at a distance.  And as such, I found the jokes in the narration didn’t land nearly as well as they did in the novel.

The … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Good Place Season Three

The Good Place has become my very favorite currently-airing TV show.  I am head over heels in love with Mike Schur’s brilliant and warm-hearted comedy.  (Click here for my review of season one, and click here for my review of season two.)  The third season kept the win-streak going with thirteen fantastic new episodes, including one (“Janet(s)”) which might be the series’ best episode so far.  (It’s main competition would be season 2’s “Dance Dance Resolution.”)

When The Good Place began, it was the story of Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), a selfish person who discovered that she had died and accidentally been admitted to “the Good Place” even though she didn’t deserve it.  Of course, that’s not actually what the show was really about.  Season one was one of the most successfully-executed tricks on the audience that I have ever seen on TV, culminating in a brilliant change-up and, perhaps, Ted Danson’s single greatest moment on television ever.  (Yes, the laugh.  Good Place fans know of what I speak.)  If that one great season was all that The Good Place had to offer, dayenu!  (That would have been enough.)  But the show has proven that there’s much more to it than that initial twist.  In seasons two and three the show has richened and deepened in ways I’d never imagined.

This is a show that’s able to examine heady philosophical and moral conflicts in a very serious way, while also deeply exploring its characters in a way that many long-running dramas don’t do in twice-as-many seasons, all the while being hands-down funnier than anything else on TV right now, with jokes piled upon jokes piled upon jokes.

Is there a show currently in production with a better ensemble that The Good Place?  Kristen Bell, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Manny Jacinto are absolutely 100% perfect; they’ve each created wonderfully unique and memorable characters; I couldn’t imagine any other actor playing these roles.  I knew Kristen Bell’s work, of course, before watching The Good Place, but the other three were complete unknowns to me.  But now, I’ll be fans of them forevermore, as happens in those special occasions when great actors are given great TV roles.  Ted Danson is TV royalty, who has already played so many amazing TV characters (Sam Malone on Cheers is of course number one on this list, but I also adored Mr. Danson’s work on Bored to Death), and here he is again with another great character who will enter the TV pantheon.  Wow.  But of them all, for me, the stand-out is D’Arcy Carden as Janet.  The weird and wonderful Janet (“not a woman,” “not a robot”) is one of … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Four

They made us wait over a year after the end of Better Call Saul season three for the start of season four, but boy was the wait worth it.  Season four was another home run from this show, one of the rare spinoffs to be as good if not better than its fantastic, much-loved predecessor.

When Better Call Saul premiered, I was surprised that Bob Odenkirk’s character had a different name and a very different personality than the Saul I had come to know and love on Breaking Bad.  At first I was antsy for Jimmy McGill to transform into Saul Goodman, but the genius of Better Call Saul is that I very quickly grew to love Jimmy so much that his eventual transformation into the morals-free, criminal lawyer (emphasis on criminal) Saul Goodman became something I started to dread.  On the mothership, Breaking Bad, Walter White’s transformation from “Mr. Chips to Scarface” was a tragedy, but though I knew things wouldn’t end well, I was generally eager to see Walt break fee of his inhibitions and embrace his dark side.  But on Saul, I have been fearing it.  I want to see the kind-hearted Jimmy, and also Kim Wexler (who has become the character on the show I am most rooting for), to somehow find a happy ending, even though we know from Breaking Bad that this is (most likely) not going to happen.

And so, for me, Better Call Saul has gradually transformed into an even richer, more heartbreaking tragedy than was Breaking Bad.  I thought Breaking Bad was a magnificent achievement in television, but I love Better Call Saul even more.

Here in season four, co-creator and co-showrunner Peter Gould stepped into the forefront, as Vince Gilligan (the mastermind behind Breaking Bad who also co-created and co-ran Saul for seasons one through three) stepped back from showrunning to focus on other projects.  This might have been a cause for concern, but I didn’t detect the slightest shift in quality.  If anything, the show was even better this year than it had ever been.

The first season of Saul had a lightness that I loved, in contrast to the grim, often hard-to-watch Breaking Bad.  As Jimmy McGill has slowly slipped into darkness, the show has darkened, with season four representing the show at its most emotionally wrenching so far.  I was absolutely gripped, from start to finish.

After the season three finale, I wondered if Michael McKean was truly out of the show.  I miss this great actor, but I am glad they didn’t walk back the events of that finale in an attempt to maintain the status quo.  I am pleased that the writers had the … [continued]

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Welcome back!  We’re about to enter the TOP TEN of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, click here for part two, and click here for part three.

And now, onward…!

10. Silicon Valley: “Terms of Service” (season four, episode two, aired on 4/30/17) — A comedic highlight of the fourth season of Silicon Valley, and the show as a whole, was this brief, beautiful moment in which Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) ascended to CEO of PiperChat … and then flamed out spectacularly.  Mr. Nanjiani has been a secret weapon on the show since the beginning, and he killed it in this spotlight episode.  I loved watching the arrogant, drunk-with-power Dinesh, but the brilliant comedic beauty of the moment in which Dinesh realized how badly he had bungled things and just how far over his head he was, was astonishing.  It was one of the funniest moments in any TV show all year long.  (The continual pinging sound effect throughout the scene, as more and more under-age users sign up for PiperChat and Dinesh finds himself in deeper and deeper trouble, took a great scene and made it amazing.  It’s a piece of comedic genius.)  The entire ensemble was on fire in this episode.  Throw in the welcome return of Matt McCoy’s sad-sack lawyer (“My shame will linger long after my voting rights are restored”) and a great final moment with series villain Gavin Belson as his triumph turns to ash (when he realizes the truth about PiperChat) and you have a winner of an episode.  (Click here for my full review of Silicon Valley season four.)

9. Sherlock: “The Final Problem” (season four, episode three, aired on 1/15/17) — What just might be the final episode of Sherlock that we ever see (though I hope that’s not the case!) was one of the series’ darkest and most nail-bitingly intense.  After a lot of teasing, this episode confirmed that the big bad villain of the season was the never-before-seen third Holmes sibling.  Sian Brooke was terrific as the dangerous and insane Eurus Holmes.  For the first time in the series, both Sherlock and Mycroft seemed truly outmatched.  This episode wrought tremendous tension out of Eurus’ torturing of her brothers and John Watson, as she presented them with a series of increasingly impossible challenges.  This was as grim as the show has ever gotten, as time and again our three heroes were powerless to stop innocent people from being murdered by Eurus all around them.  I could hardly believe what I was watching.  The show has never looked better — every aspect of the production seemed to be firing … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Three!

So, I am late getting this review together!  I finished watching season three of Better Call Saul last spring, but for whatever reason haven’t found the time to get my review finished until now.  In short: it’s great!  I have adored the Breaking Bad spin-off Better Call Saul since the very beginning.  In fact, as I have written before, there have been times when I have thought that Saul might be an even BETTER show than the undeniably great Breaking Bad.  That is staggeringly impressive.

Season three of Better Call Saul takes some dark turns.  This is a grimmer, more downbeat version of the show.  This was inevitable, as we knew since minute one the sad fate that would await Jimmy McGill at the end of Breaking Bad.  (Not even the end.  Forget what happens to him by the end of the series; the man called Saul Goodman is already a sad fate for the good-hearted Jimmy McGill when we first meet Saul in Breaking Bad.)

When Better Call Saul began, I, like most viewers, thought I’d be a rush for the show to show Jimmy’s transformation into Saul, since Saul was such a fun presence on Breaking Bad.  But it is a mark of how great this show has been that that I quickly fell in love with Jimmy McGill and have been dreading his transformation to the immoral Saul.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much FUN I found Better Call Saul to be in the early going.  Breaking Bad certainly had some funny moments, but as a whole that series was so bleak that I often found it hard to watch, even as I always has great respect for how terrific a show it was. But Saul, while always having rich emotional stakes, was a hoot to watch!  That changed somewhat this season, as things turned sour for many of the characters.  Saul is as good a show as it has ever been, perhaps BETTER, but as the series has gotten closer to its Breaking Bad end-game, there was no way for the fun not to start to fall away as the tragedies began to mount.

This season had an unusual structure in that I felt the emotional climax came in episode five, “Chicanery,” in which Jimmy and Chuck confronted one another in court.  Things had been building to this since the very beginning, and it was incredible to see the two brothers finally do battle with one another, and in such a public way.  In an incredibly astute move by Vince Gilligan, Peter Gould, and their writers, they finally gave Jimmy an unabashed win over his brother, exposing his mental illness for all to … [continued]

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Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season Two!

I loved the first season of Better Call Saul I was blown away by Bob Odenkirk’s performance in the lead role, and by the extraordinary groups of actors with whom he was surrounded, most notably fellow Breaking Bad alum Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut, along with new faces Rhea Seehorn as Kim Wexler and Michael McKean as Charles McGill.  I found that first season to be tense and gripping while also being a huge amount of fun.  This is an incredibly impressive balance of tone.  I wrote in my review that I enjoyed that first season of Better Call Saul more than any season of Breaking Bad except for Bad’s final run of episodes.  Soon after finishing Saul season one I eagerly dove into season two.

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While perhaps not quite as perfect as season one (and without the thrill of discovery of this new show), Better Call Saul season two remains a master class in television craftsmanship, hugely enjoyable and gripping, fun and also heartbreaking.  I loved it.  I tore through it at a rapid pace and am left eagerly counting the days until season three.

Season one began with a wonderful black-and-white vignette, a peek at the fate of Saul Goodman following the events of Breaking Bad.  I didn’t think we’d ever see any more of that time-period until the end of Better Call Saul’s run, but I was delighted to have been proven wrong as the first moments of season two gave us another look at the sad, lonely life being lived by Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman after his life had been torn apart by his relationship with Walter White.  It was fascinating to note that in the tiny, desperate bit of graffiti left behind by Jimmy/Saul, he identified himself not as Jimmy, but as Saul.  Watching the first season of Better Call Saul, I was stunned by how much I grew to love Jimmy McGill.  Rather than being impatient for the show to hurry up and get to Jimmy’s transformation into Saul — the fun, fast-talking, morals-free dude we’d gotten to know and love in Breaking Bad — I was dreading the day when the sweet, good-hearted Jimmy would be replaced by Saul.  And yet, while I as a viewer might lament the coming loss of Jimmy, it was fascinating to see in this intro vignette that, even after arriving at the sad lonely end of Saul Goodman’s road, this man considers himself Saul rather than Jimmy.  It’s heartbreaking and also a tantalizing glimpse of where this show is going.  Two seasons in, I am still not sure how the Jimmy who I have grown to love so much will eventually be crushed and … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews Better Call Saul Season One!

I started watching Breaking Bad on DVD right as the show was ending.  There was so much critical love for that show, particularly in the months leading up to its finale, and I was eager to see what all the fuss was about!  I thoroughly enjoyed Breaking Bad as I made my way through the series, but somewhat to my surprise I never found myself as head-over-heels in love with the show as so many others seemed to be.  I respected the show enormously for what a quality piece of work it was, with incredible writing and performances (by Bryan Cranston in particular but also by all of the show’s wonderful ensemble) and extraordinarily top-notch production values.  But I never found myself in LOVE with the show.  I think this was because the show was so successful at being emotionally wrenching that I found it difficult to watch. Usually with shows I love, I tear through the episodes at a rapid clip.  But Breaking Bad was a show I needed to take my time with.  Even though many seasons ended on cliffhanger, I often found that I needed to wait weeks if not months before I was ready to move on to the next season.

And so, even though by the time I had completed watching the final season of Breaking Bad, the first season of the spin-off show Better Call Saul was already available, I hesitated to dive in. It wasn’t until last month that my wife and I finally sat down to watch Better Call Saul season one.  I am sorry I waited so long, because this first season of Better Call Saul was magnificent!  I think I enjoyed this season more than any season of Breaking Bad!  (Save perhaps for Breaking Bad’s riveting final run of episodes.)

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The show begins with a wonderful tease, a black-and-white sequence of Bob Odenkirk’s Saul living a solitary life working at a Cinnabun in a mall.  This little mini-movie is a gloriously brilliant way to open the show, as the audience is forced to look carefully for clues to determine when in the timeline of Saul’s life that sequence takes place.  The answer is perfect, and a perfect way to set the tone for this prequel series.

Bob Odenkirk’s Saul was a lot of fun on Breaking Bad, a bright splash of color in the dark world of Walter White.  I’d imagine that a perfectly entertaining show could have been made just watching the goofy, fast-talking Saul’s adventures as a “criminal” lawyer before he got mixed up with Walt and Jesse.  And yet, thankfully, creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould have set out to do something more difficult, something … [continued]

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Josh Reviews the Animated Adaptation of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1)!

Released in 1986, Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most seminal Batman stories ever written, and certainly one of the finest super-hero comic-book stories ever told.  The Dark Knight Returns forever changed the depiction of Batman, and it has been influencing comic book writers and artists not to mention filmmakers ever since.  The dark, gothic look and tone of Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) was heavily influenced by The Dark Knight Returns, and the first hour-and-a-half of Christopher Nolan’s similarly-titled The Dark Knight Rises (in which an aging Bruce Wayne, having not been Batman for nearly a decade, puts back on the cape and cowl, attempting to rebuild his body and then doing battle with a muscle-bound terrorist attempting to take control of Gotham City) is nearly a direct adaptation.

That’s a bit of a joke, of course, partly based on my disappointment with The Dark Knight Rises (click here for my review, though my dissatisfaction with the film has grown since I wrote that initial, mostly-positive review), but it’s certainly true that many of the major story-beats from that film were taken directly from The Dark Knight Returns. They even directly took the scene in which two cops, a veteran and a rookie, respond after first seeing Batman again on the night of his return.  (“You’re slowing down?”  “Relax, kid.  We’re in for a show.”)

I first read The Dark Knight Returns only a few years after it was initially published.  I was WAY too young to read it, not question.  I didn’t understand everything in the story (the twist about Harvey Dent’s psychosis at the end of Book one totally went right over my ten-year-old head) but I was nevertheless gripped by this dark, violent, gripping story.  I have since read The Dark Knight Returns countless times, and it has lost none of its power.  I’ve written about it before on this site, naming it one of my favorite graphic novels of all time.

I was thus very excited and also very nervous when it was announced that Bruce Timm & co. would be adapting this groundbreaking work as their next direct-to-DVD DC Universe animated project.  This is exactly the type of comic source material that I desperately want to see Mr. Timm and his crew adapt — a classic series from the DC pantheon.  But The Dark Knight Returns is so good, so beloved, that the idea of a lame, sub-par adaptation was far worse than the idea of no adaptation at all.

One of my biggest continual complaints with these DC Animated DVDs has been that they’re way too short.  They all seem to be clocking … [continued]

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EZ Viewing IV: A Mighty Wind

October 28th, 2009
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The third film we screened at EZ Viewing IV was A Mighty Wind.

A Mighty Wind is another fine film that I have a distinct memory of seeing for the first time (when I caught a sneak peek here in Boston) – although I have seen it many, many times subsequently!!

Businessman Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban, so great as wimpy NBC executive Russell Dalrymple in Seinfeld) decides to put together a memorial concert for his father featuring as many of his dad’s favorite folk musicians as possible. As he sets out to recruit the “talent,” what follows is a delightfully bizarre and wonderfully entertaining tour through the universe of folk music and the many, um, let’s say “quirky” folks who inhabit it. The world of folk music isn’t something that was necessarily crying out for parody – but that might be part of what makes A Mighty Wind so memorable.

The “mockumentary” format has become a bit overused in recent years, but there does not exist a greater master of the format than director/writer/actor Christopher Guest, and in my mind A Mighty Wind is the pinnacle of his work. (Let the debates begin!!) Much has been written about the improvisational manner in which Guest and his actors find the characters and the shape of their films – the result is a film that is filled to the brim with indelible comedic performances. And what an ensemble of actors Mr. Guest has assembled: Harry Shearer (the voice of Ned Flanders, Montgomery Burns, Waylon Smithers, Principal Skinner, Kent Brockman, Rev. Lovejoy, Dr. Hibbert, Rainier Wolfcastle, and so many more on The Simpsons) , Michael McKean (spreader of a vicious rumor about Larry David on last season’s finale of Curb Your Enthusiasm), Eugene Levy (American Pie), Catherine O’Hara (SCTV), Jane Lynch (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Role Models, Talladega Nights), Parker Posey (Superman Returns), Fred IWillard (Anchorman, Wall-E), Ed Begley Jr. (The Pineapple Express, hairless Stan Sitwell on Arrested Development), Jennifer Coolidge (Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me), Larry Miller (a familiar face from so many comedies, but I’ll always think of him as the overly forward doorman on Seinfeld), John Michael Higgins (Walk Hard, deadpan attorney Wayne Jarvis on Arrested Development), Paul Dooley (spymaster Enabran Tain on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and so many more.

There are so many pleasures to be found in this film. The fanatical happiness of the New Main Street Singers. The reunion of Spinal Tap (Shearer, McKean, & Guest), albeit now in the form of a group performing an entirely different … [continued]