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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’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018 — Part Three!

Click here for part one of my list of My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2018, and click here for part two.  And now, onwards to my top five!

5. Black Mirror: “Bandersnatch” (released on 12/28/18) — This was the most impressively surprising TV experience I had all year.  I’d never have dreamed that such a thing could be possible, but somehow, Black Mirror found a way to replicate the feel of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book as a TV show.  I loved those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid, and having that experience recreated by a TV show was extraordinary.  Every few minutes (and even more frequently at times), you are prompted on screen to make a decision as to what Stefan, the main character in the episode, should do.  You make your choice via your remote control, and then the film unfolds based upon that choice.  Just like in a real “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, sometimes those choices take you out of the story quickly, in which case you are allowed either to exit the film or retrace your steps and try again.  Apparently, there are many hours of footage that can be discovered based on the choices you make as Stefan during the film!  “Bandersnatch” is an extraordinary achievement in both technology and narrative story-telling.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Black Mirror: “Bandersnatch”.)

4. Star Wars: Rebels: “Family Reunion — and Farewell” (season four, episodes fifteen and sixteen, aired on 3/5/18) — Star Wars: Rebels aired its final two episodes back-to-back, and together they provided a note-perfect ending to, not just this series, but all of the animated Star Wars adventures fans have been following since The Clone Wars began a decade ago, in 2008.  This finale successfully managed to maintain a sense of fun adventure that has always characterized the best Star Wars stories, while building to an extremely moving, heartfelt climax.  There were so many amazing moments: Ezra’s temptation by the Emperor (voiced by Ian McDiarmid, reprising his role from the films!); Agent Kallus’ final redemption; great stuff for Rex and the surviving Clone Troopers (including, at long last, confirmation of the fan theory that the old bearded guy on Endor in Return of the Jedi was Rex!!); some great villainous moments from Thrawn (a character created by Timothy Zahn in his amazing “Heir to the Empire” novels, who I was delighted to see brought to animated life on Rebels); hearing John Williams’ magnificent Jedi theme play when Ezra steps out of the shadows, Loth-Wolves right behind him, and silently ignites his green light-saber; and so much more.  But the reason this … [continued]

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So, here’s our first real look at the new X-Men film, Dark Phoenix:

I really want this to be great, but I’m not yet feeling this one.  First of all, the continuity of these X-Men movies makes my head spin.  One of the things I loved about Days of Future Past was the way it adjusted the continuity of the previous films in order to undo some of the damage of The Last Stand and give these characters a happy ending.  Most relevant to this new Dark Phoenix movie was that, in the last moments of Days of Future Past, we saw that Jean Grey was still alive.  So I’m a bit flummoxed that they’ve continued making movies (X-Men: Apocalypse and now this one) set BEFORE the events of that Days of Future Past epilogue.  If Jean is alive in that epilogue, that sort of removes the suspense from this movie, no?  This is a actually a rare case where I wish they’d just do a reboot and start fresh.

Putting that aside and just considering this trailer, my next biggest concern is the degree to which what we see in the trailer seems totally different from the classic Dark Phoenix story from the comics (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne).  I’m not really seeing ANYTHING from the classic comic story here yet.  The Last Stand bungled the Dark Phoenix story, and so I am excited at the potential for a do-over.  But my hope for a do-over would be for the movie to hew much closer to the original comic story, which so far doesn’t seem to be what they’re doing here.  That really disappoints me.

What’s good?  I do really like this cast, and I am happy to see James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, and Jennifer Lawrence back in these roles (after they all seemed like they were done after X-Men: Apocalypse).  And I’m happy that the new crew introduced in Apocalypse also seem to all be back as well: Sophie Turner as Jean Grey, Tye Sheriden as Cyclops, Alexandra Shipp as Storm, and Kodi Smit-McPhee as Nightcrawler.  I’m particularly jazzed to see Sophie Turner (who I thought was a little underused in Apocalypse) given a chance to shine.  I love the new-look costumes (which seem to be heavily influenced by Frank Quitely’s designs for Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men back in 2001).  I’d love for Dark Phoenix (why have they dropped X-Men from the title?) to be a big, awesome X-Men epic.  Here’s hoping…

Here’s a nice juicy look at Daredevil season three:

After the disappointment of The Defenders, I have fallen behind on the Marvel Netflix shows.  I skipped The Punisher, as I’m just … [continued]

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Josh Reviews The Good Place: Season Two

I didn’t watch the first season of The Good Place last year.  But when season two began in the fall, I wondered, why am I not watching this new show by Mike Schur, who has been behind so many other great shows that I have loved (particularly Parks and Recreation)??  So I went back and started streaming season one, and I immediately fell in love with this wonderful comedic creation.  I tore through season one and loved every minute.  That first season’s delicious twist ending was fantastic, and made me so happy that I wouldn’t have to wait a year before watching season two!  I am pleased that the second season was just as fantastic as that first year.  The Good Place is easily one of my very favorite shows currently on TV.

So much of season one was structured to build up to that wonderful twist at the end of the year.  And so I had to wonder, would the new season be able to top that?  What would the show look like now that we knew the truth behind the situation that Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) had found themselves in?

This post-twist season two could have easily felt like a let-down, but the miracle of what Mr. Schur and his collaborators have created here is that, post-twist, this second season wound up feeling even more fun and crazy than ever before!  This season burnt through plot like few shows I have ever seen — in this respect, it reminded me of Breaking Bad in its prime.  Eleanor and co. figured out what was up with Michael’s “reboot” of the Good Place by the end of the two-part season premiere, while the second episode (the best episode of the season — it made my “Best TV of 2017” list) burnt through hundreds of years of in-show continuity!!  While season one was a slow burn building up to that end-of-the-year twist, season two was a fast-paced roller-coaster, in which the show completely transformed itself almost every single episode.

That amazing second episode, “Dance Dance Resolution,” showed just how daring and inventive Mr. Schur and his writers were capable of being. I think it was that episode, even more than Michael’s laugh at the end of season one, that sealed my love for this show.

The main ensemble continued to be just as fantastic in season one as they were in season two.  Ted Danson continues to prove how effortlessly incredible he is.  This man is a master of the sitcom form.  He allows Michael to be both villainous and empathetic, and oh-so funny.  It’s fantastic work.  Michael has … [continued]

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Josh’s Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017 — Part Five!

And so, we arrive, at last, at My Five Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  (Click here for part one of my list, click here for part two, click here for part three, and click here for part four.)

5. Brockmire: “Rally Cap” (season one, episode one, aired on 4/5/17) — We enter my TOP FIVE with what is probably my favorite new show of 2017, Brockmire.  Hank Azaria stars in the role he was born to play as Jim Brockmire, a disgraced, alcoholic former baseball announcer hired to do play-by-play for a tiny minor league baseball team in a small, middle-American town.  This is a brilliant comedic set-up, and Hank Azaria bites into the role of the brash, profane, and deeply broken Brockmire with aplomb.  Mr. Azaria can make anything sound funny with his “baseball announcer” voice, but the miracle of the show is how they are able to slowly craft Brockmire into a fully-realized character, not just a one-dimensional punchline.  Amanda Peet has perfect chemistry with Mr. Azaria as Jules, the baseball-loving team owner who hired Brockmire.  Every single one of their scenes together is dynamite.  I almost put episode six, “Road Trip,” on this list, for the insane and hysterical scene in which Brockmire accidentally snorts Jules’ abortion pill, but in the end I had to go with this first episode, which was a note-perfect introduction to these characters and this world.  It also contains the moment which made me laugh harder than almost anything else I saw on TV in 2017: a drunken Brockmire’s post-it-note suicide letter, which he asks Jules to give to his ex-wife who humiliated him (“She’ll know what it’s in regards to”).  It was very dark and jaw-droppingly hilarious.  I loved it.  (Click here for my full review of Brockmire season one.)

4. The Good Place: “Michael’s Gambit” (season one, episode thirteen, aired on 1/19/17) — Far too many TV shows these days are built around twists or “surprises” that the audience figures out way before the show wants us to, resulting in disappointing and anticlimactic story-telling.  So bravo to Parks and Recreation’s Michael Schur for crafting this incredible first season of The Good Place, which culminated in this staggeringly good twist that reshaped everything we thought we knew about the show.  The first season of The Good Place was fantastic even before the twist (which is where most shows built around twists fail), and it holds up marvelously well even when you know the twist, because of how perfectly everything fits together (which is where most OTHER shows built around twists fail!).  I loved this season from start to finish, but it was … [continued]

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I have been reviewing My Favorite Episodes of TV of 2017!  Click here for part one, and here for part two.  And now, onward to part three:

15. The Tick: “Party Crashers” (season one, episode four, released on 8/25/17) — Just as Arthur is getting drawn deeper in the world of super-heroes (embodied by the Tick and the vigilante Overkill) and super-villains (Miss Lint and the Terror), he has to attend his step-father’s birthday party in the suburbs.  Of course, both the Tick and Miss Lint crash the party, and the result is the comedic highlight of this very funny first batch of episodes.  Peter Serafinowicz is amazing as the Tick, and he’s particularly funny when placed into the very non-superhero-like setting of a birthday party in the suburbs.  This was also the episode in which I fell in love with the beleaguered former super-villain hench-woman Miss Lint.  (The scenes with her ex-husband Derek, with whom she is apparently still sharing an apartment, were so funny.)  Miss Lint is the best new character in this version of The Tick.  I was also so happy to see François Chau (Pierre Chang from Lost!) as Arthur’s stepfather Walter.  I have loved The Tick since its humble beginnings as an independently published black-and-white comic book in the eighties, through all three (!) of its TV incarnations.  This Netflix version might be the best one yet — if your’e not watching it (and most of you aren’t), you should remedy that immediately.  (Click here for my full review of The Tick: season one, part one.)

14. The Good Place: “Dance Dance Resolution” (season two, episode two, aired on 9/28/17) — The season finale of The Good Place’s first season (which, ahem, I will discuss in detail later on in this list) upended the show’s status quo in a magnificent and surprising way.  I thought that meant that the second season would tell a similar, season-long story in this new set-up, but this second episode of season two threw that all out the window in a spectacularly audacious manner.  I am reluctant to say too much, because if you haven’t yet seen this show I don’t want to spoil any of the fantastic surprises that await you.  Let me say that this wonderfully insane episode takes place over the course of hundreds of years and demonstrated that this is a show in which anything can happen, one in which the writers will fearlessly take the characters and the show in dramatically new directions when you least expect it.  Narratively bold and, as always, absolutely fall-on-the-floor funny (I laughed so hard at Michael’s description that the time when even Jason was … [continued]

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Late to the Party: Josh Reviews The Good Place Season One!

I’m a big fan of Michael Schur.  He was involved with the American version of The Office and he created (with Greg Daniels) and ran Parks and Recreation, which is an amazing TV show that I loved dearly, and created (with Daniel Goor) and ran Brooklyn 99, a very funny show that, while it’s not genius-level TV, is consistently funny and joyous.  So why didn’t I watch The Good Place, the new show created by Mr. Schur, when it premiered on NBC last year?  I’m not entirely sure!  I think there was something about its bright, primary-color color palette that rubbed me the wrong way when I saw glimpses of the show in previews; and I think I am somewhat mistrustful of new shows anchored by big-time stars (in this case, Ted Danson and Kristen Bell).  But when the second season premiered a few weeks ago, I said to my wife, what are we doing??  Why have we not even tried this new show by the guy who made these other shows we loved?  So we decided to watch the first episode on Netflix, and a few days later found we’d sped through the entire thirteen-episode first season.  What a great show this is!

When the show begins, Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), awakens in the afterlife.  She is relieved to be informed by Michael (Ted Danson), that she is in “the Good Place.”  But while Eleanor’s name is indeed Eleanor Shellstrop, she is not the saint that Michael seems to think she is — she has somehow been brought to the Good Place by mistake!

I really enjoyed this show.  Like most of Mr. Schur’s prior work it is very funny, very clever, and with a sense of optimism and sunniness that I find to be extremely endearing.

The show is very clever, with an impressive attention to detail.  I loved all of the worldbuilding that we were given in season one, as Mr. Schur and his team fleshed out this afterlife and how everything worked.  Most impressively, none of this felt like chunky exposition.  The show always found fun, character-based ways to explore this world and to answer questions that we the audience might not have even realized we had.

The Good Place strikes a great balance between episodic and serialized.  Each episode successfully stands on its own and tells a complete story.  But most episodes end with a wonderful cliffhanger that made me eager to move on to the next episode.  This was a fun show to binge-watch!  Mr. Schur and his team have impressively solved the problems that beset so many serialized shows these days.  I was delighted to discover the shape of the full story … [continued]