Archive for the ‘TV show’ Category

Ah, Black Summer. A balm to ease my zombie needs. If you’ve read my post on why I stopped watching The Walking Dead, you’ll know just how bitterly disappointed I was that my love affair with the series came to an end. Yet, here comes Black Summer, strutting it’s gory stuff all over Netflix and getting my heart racing as zombies chase down their hapless prey.

Set (apparently – but only because I haven’t done my research) in the same universe as Z Nation, Black Summer is very different. There’s little in the way of humour nor any of the tongue-in-cheek nods given to the tropes of the genre that Z Nation manages to play with. Instead, what we are left with is a gritty, breathless start to the zombie apocalypse where no-one is safe.

What begins with a family trying to find passage with a retreating military, soon devolves into a frantic fight for survival. The father is tagged as infected, the daughter is whisked away on another truck whilst her mother is torn between the two. When her husband turns, it’s all she can do to stay ahead of him. In amongst the madness, set in a housing estate, as people are attacked and reanimate, storylines unfold. A gangster is held at gunpoint by soldiers looking for loot; a boyfriend abandons his other half; a woman looking for her family is carjacked and then saved yet only for a while.

It’s brilliantly executed, breakneck speed action that unfolds and twists back on itself within the same set of streets, and told from multiple angles. And, soon, some of these survivors migrate together. The gangster saves the mother who both help another lost soul. The carjacked woman and her saviour take in a young Asian lady who speaks little English. These strange, fractured and desperate relationships are intense yet unexplored as, just like reality, there is no time to dwell and ponder and give monologues. It’s about staying alive and staying ahead of the pack; both zombie and human.

Black Summer, is relentless and there’s little plot armour for the cast. Things happen and they happen fast. Feral kids; hedonistic-drug fuelled underground raves; kind strangers; and all out terror. I’m hoping there’s another season as I thoroughly enjoyed the first one. The no frills, all action, the ‘apocalypse is happening right now’ style to the story telling and camera work was excellent and hooked me from the get-go.

I’m not happy about this. It’s just my anonymous opinion. But, I gave up on season two of The Punisher.

I really enjoyed the first season and was as spellbound as the rest by Jon Bernthal’s portrayal of Frank Castle aka ‘the Punisher’. From the ensemble cast, each checking and countering the other, to the morally ambiguous actions of both antagonist and protagonist, the first series kicked in the doors and laid bare its intentions from the outset. It was grim and gritty and bloody, and I loved it.

I couldn’t wait for the next season. I shared text messages with a friend when it hit Netflix. And then….

And, then. It wasn’t what I’d hoped for. It didn’t fulfill its potential. It could have done better.

Perhaps, the first season was so everything that it was hard to follow up. Perhaps, it had done so much with the source material in that opening stanza that what came next paled in comparison. To me – and just in my eyes – it felt forced. The way in which they dragged Castle back in to a fight seemed beyond contrived. The person he was helping earned no empathy from me as a viewer. Added to that, the clumsy dual plot line of Russo/ Jigsaw just made it all seem forced.

Everything about it from Russo’s overly acted yet non-consistent character to the new big baddy hunting Castle threw me off. It was all to strained and I just couldn’t invest. Perhaps I’ll revisit it because, believe me, I wanted to like it but, after four episodes, I bailed.

It seems, by writing these posts, that I’ve been watching more media than I’ve been reading. However, I’ve also quit on a few shows as well and I wanted to briefly discuss why…

First up, The Walking Dead. I was a big fan of this series; I’ve re-watched the seasons 1-5 quite a few times and, it’s fair to say, I was slightly obsessed with it when it first came out. It made me more of a fan of the genre due to its internally consistent logic, it’s great world-building and some very decent acting. The human element was intriguing and the threats were real. That the zombies became a secondary danger compared to other survivors was well played initially but, for me at least, things began to unravel somewhere around season 6.

Rick’s character lost that thing that made him, him. He made choices that weren’t consistent with who he had become. Choices which, whilst obviously plot driven, seemed contrived. The introduction of yet another war-lord/cult leader with (again) a more equipped army and (again) a better suited stronghold who (again) has megalomaniacal ideas of control and domination felt… tired. Negan wasn’t the character he was promised to be and his Jim Carey-lite portrayal didn’t really work for me; he was neither unhinged enough to be scary and nor was he imposing or brutal enough to fear.

And then we came to ‘the scavengers’. It was this group that ended my love affair with the show. Whilst my wife bailed after season 6, I powered on, hoping the series would find itself again and reaffirm it’s gritty, realistic style, and get back to its roots. But, no. What we got was a group of post-40 year old emo/goths living in a scrap yard talking in a type of slang that had little to zero bearing on anything. The internal logic was gone. The Walking Dead had finally lost that thing that made me relate and had fallen into a feedback loop.

I couldn’t shake it off. In the world of Rick and the others, the apocalypse had been, at most, going on for three years (?). How on Earth had these scavengers devolved into a bunch of mute, Mad Max cosplaying, pidgin- talking weirdos in that space of time? It grated at me until I realised I’d lost the desire to know, to understand, to watch along anymore. I no longer cared if Carl stayed in the house; I no longer worried if Maggie or Carol would find their inner strength again (and speaking of Carol, her character arc was another massive sense of annoyance best left unpacked).

I loved The Walking Dead for a long time but, sometimes, it’s best to just delete that season you’ve been saving just in case and move on.

Continuing from yesterday, here’s one more awesome thing I’ve watched in a stupor of post-training fatigue..

I saw the trailer, more than once, but I wasn’t wholly convinced. I initially felt like this mini-series would be one of those melancholic, navel-gazing type shows where little would happen but much would be discussed. How wrong I was.

Maniac is anything but. Instead, it was a journey out of despondency and depression, spiralling upwards toward a kaleidoscopic expression of wholesome emotion. In a retro-futuristic world of robots and weird science, there’s an off-key, off-centre feel to its sci-fi background that is as intriguing as it is tricky to hold on to. Following the entwined stories of Owen (Jonah Hill) and Annie (Emma Stone) the narrative simultaneously converges and fractures around a bizarre pharmaceutical trial. Owen needs the money to strike out and find his dependence from his domineering and overly successful family; Annie is chasing the drug on trial and it’s particular effects.

Whilst Owen is anxious and withdrawn, Annie is brash and bold, and the pair are soon thrust together in the same group testing the drug. Adding more unique layers to the already unusual worldbuilding, the pharma Company is itself a story that unfolds in fits and starts, revealing a scientist exiled from his own research only to be brought back at a crucial time and a computer that is so self aware it’s sabataging it’s own experiment.

The drug works by dropping the user into old memories and visions, helping them realise a healthier and happy conclusion. However, each time Owen and Annie find themselves in each other’s visions, as different people, in different lives but always thrown together. Eventually both do escape their most negative aspects and find inner peace yet the journey there is a winding and fantastical path.

As a vehicle for the actors it’s a chance to play multiple characters within a narrative framework. This is where the uniqueness works, ebbing and flowing forward and rising ever upwards. It was surprising and fulfilling and hopeful, all couched in a thoroughly distinct and inventive worldbuilding. It’s odd, hard to categorise but excellent it’s own special and quirky way.

I was recently looking for something to watch (in a state of post-training exhaustion) and it made me think about all the great things I’ve watched but not blogged about (because I’ve been training a lot and “recovering” on the sofa). It also made me think of all the things I stopped watching, though I’ll save that for another post. So, without further ado, and with thanks to Netflix and it’s great programming – The Umbrella Company.

Adapted from a comic book, this series was an instant hit with my wife and I. Drawing you in with great characters and a number of unanswered questions that are slowly and cleverly explained, The Umberlla Company is a bright, engaging piece of fantasy. Similar in style and feel to the Marc Caro/ Jean-Pierre Jeunet films, such as City of the Lost Children, there’s a mix of seriousness and comedy that seemlessly entertains whilst never losing sight of the story.

The ensemble cast of characters, each with their own deep, and sometimes dark, background are brilliant. Their wild abilities, their shared history of adoption and their sense of being cast adrift from any sense of purpose is thread through the narrative. Adopted as babies by an eccentric millionaire (himself a strange character) and nurtured to manage and develop their super powers, the children become poster boys and girls for the eponymous Umbrella Company. Saving the day and going on missions being all part of the fun.

However, little is normal here and when your name is a number and your surrogate mother is a robot, it’s no wonder things get weird. After one of the gang disappears only to return decades later looking just as he did, a twelve-year old, but acting like a fifty-year old, the mystery begins. It’s a wonderfully, tangly mix of time travel, apocalyptic prophesy and crime caper as secrets are unearthed and the bigger picture is slowly revealed.

The Umbrella Company does a lot of things right from it’s stylised worldbuilding to its witty and engaging characters. Fantastical and fun but with an edge.

The Takeshi Kovacs series by Richard K Morgan are among some of my favourite books. The world building and vision is astounding whilst the gritty and cynical protagonist, coupled with the hectic action, combines to form a top notch cyberpunk novel. Thankfully, the Netflix produced T.V series captured all of this in full technicolour.

For those not in the know (unlikely), Altered Carbon is a crime thriller set in a far future where humanity has achieved the ability to download one’s personality and, in theory, live forever by using different ‘sleeves’ or bodies. Space travel is possible by needlecasting; sending your personality data to be downloaded into another body. The possibilities of the tech are far-reaching, creating a fecund and fascinating culture as a background to an intriguing story.

Takeshi Kovacs is one of those used to being resleeved. An Envoy with special training he is tasked with unravelling the mystery of why an obnoxiously wealthy man, who is basically immortal, would kill himself. The man in question has, himself, resleeved and questions abound; was he killed or did he commit suicide.

The resulting merry-go-round that Kovacs finds himself upon is both brutal and eye-opening. He uncovers all manner of disturbing truths about the unobtainably rich, called Meths, such as his employer’s predilection for rape/murder. There are worlds within worlds and layers upon layers of deceptions and double backs as people scrabble for power and status.

The T.V. Series is a visual riot grasping the world Richard K Morgan has created with a brilliance that dazzles. Equally, Kovacs, played by Joel Kinnaman, is wonderfully jaded yet excellently threatening. The weirdness of the ‘sleeves’ is captured amazingly well, causing a considered disturbance to much of the story whilst the action is violent and breathtaking. The series even got the A.I. hotel down too.

Whilst there might be a few niggles ( why they changed Kovacs backstory as an Envoy from the original book version), this is a thoroughly enjoyable, sumptuously created piece of visual entertainment. I’m really looking forward to the next season because, if it’s anything like the books, it should be awesome.

The Expanse (TV series)

Posted: April 6, 2018 in Sci-Fi, TV show
Tags: ,

I read the first few books when initially published and enjoyed them immensely. So, it was a no-brainier that when I saw this series available on Netflix, I put it on my list to watch. Unfortunately (or not depending on your perspective) my reading time has been limited. Due to life, work and training, I’ve instead found myself glued to the sofa in a state of exhaustion taking the easy route of watching television. Thankfully, series such as The Expanse, are excellent.

The quality of the production is truly top shelf and the script has a brilliant story to base itself upon. The multiple players in the political landscape are all portrayed fantastically – even the weird psuedo-London patois accent of the ‘Belters’. Caught in the middle of it all are the mismatched crew run, reluctantly, by Jim Holden. It’s an interesting focal point to take between the Earth and Mars power struggle and the oppression of the population living in the outer belt, as each member represents a different aspect of the conflict.

Thomas Jane absolutely owns the character of detective Miller, a kind of corporate owned police officer. It’s his investigation into the disappearance of an OPA sympathiser that uncovers a very scary plot using an alien virus. Whilst the book made more of the firightening and disturbing nature of this viral life form, the changes made for the series make sense. Most of the actors fit my reading of the novels but I did feel that one crew member, Amos, wasn’t as well cast as could be.

Never-the-less, this is an excellent and awesomely filmed series. If you’re into your big space sci-fi, it’s well worth the time.

If I’ve said it to my wife once, I’ve said it a thousand times; Netflix is crushing it with their original sci-fi series. The Punisher is an excellent example. As a kid, I read some Spider-Man/Punisher crossover comics and, as a teen, I read more Punisher comic books. He’s a great character who populates a space in the superhero landscape that is unique. An anti-hero of sorts but one driven by the most pure albeit tragic of reasons.

The series does an amazing job of bringing that backstory to life, rebooted yet losing none of its power. In fact, it probably adds a layer of moral ambiguity to the character of Frank Castle that firmly places the series at the gritty end of dark. Jon Bernthal fills out the army issue boots of The Punisher in epic fashion with an intensity that is relentless and terrifying.

After dispatching a host of gangsters, drug dealers and mafiosa, who Castle blames for the murder of his wife and children, he is drifting under the radar having faked his own death. But a message from a certain ‘Micro’ brings everything back and uncovers the real power behind the killing of his family.

The dynamic between Frank and Micro is intriguing and complex, moving from enemies to friends and everything in between. The duo are, however, the perfect package to take on an enemy who has all the assets and all the power. Frank’s psychotic drive and ability to rain down death paired with Micro’s technological wizardry is an unstoppable force.

Yet, there are other players in the game such as Homeland Security Agent Madani. A woman compelled to find the truth and very much a white-hat in the story. It complicates Castle’s plans entirely as Madani is determined to bring The Punisher in, thinking he is responsible for all manner of crimes. As things begin to untangle, Madani and Castle begin to co-operate.

The Punisher is a brilliant series. Dark, violent and uncompromising. It also cleverly touches on some serious modern themes around the recent conflicts in the Middle East. But, the finale is one of the most brutal conclusions I’ve seen in screen. One which cleverly leaves an opening for a second series and I can’t wait.


My wife and I had to take a break in the middle of season 6 for reasons I’ll lay out a bit later, so it took us until a week before the start of chapter seven to catch up. Being slightly obsessed with the show, I felt a proper, continuous rerun was in order for me to fully deal with the fallout from that most shocking openining episode.

Season 6 frustrated me for a number of reasons. Rick and his group came into Alexandria as wild, hardened survivors. The meek residents of the compound knew nothing of the outside world and it’s horrors and Rick was determined to show them that he and his crew were the top dogs. However, a number of mistakes were made, essentially weakening Alexandria and allowing it to come under attack.

Whilst I recognise that many of these ‘mistakes’ are plot devices, in the logic of The Walking Dead world, these errors display a persistent softness in the group. In season 5, Daryl gets caught up in a trap set by the truly feral ‘Wolves’ thereby (accidentally) revealing the location of the compound. Later, he again gets caught by another desperate group on the run from the ‘Saviours’ (who we subsequently meet). Both times he has allowed himself to be tricked and both times it has resulted in dire consequences. As the group’s tracker and most rugged survivor, letting his guard down this often begs the question. Similarly, Ricks weird obsession with Jessie, which ultimately puts his own family in huge danger, displays a serious lack of consideration. As a final example, there is Glenn’s choice to cover for Nicholas and protect him; again this failure to eliminate an issue has seriously bad results (and this is where my wife and I stopped watching as we thought Glenn had been killed, and in such a pointless and frustrating manner).

I could go on. The point is, at the core of Rick and his group is a tendency to help, to try to retain their humanity, to perceive themselves as the good guys and, therefore, able to defeat evil. And I think this is the crux of the matter.

The group has overcome the Governer; they escaped and eliminated Terminus. They are good people who’ve had to do bad things but that’s the problem. They are still holding on to the things that make them vulnerable or that make them hesitate when they should act.

It’s the reason why Carol broke so badly that she felt the need to leave the safety of the group. It’s the reason Morgan sees all life as precious but incessantly puts people in danger due to his personal ethos. The reason Glenn and Daryl hesitate and then pay the consequences. They aren’t as bad or as tough or as hardened as they think they are. It leads to stupid decisions, especially the idea that they can take on the Saviours.

What is so frustrating is the fact that they should be smarter because of everything they’ve done. They should recognise that there are no good guys left; everyone has done necessary evils to stay alive, especially Rick’s group. But they haven’t learned to let go of the things that make them weak. A great example of this is when Carol and Maggie were captured. I thought Carol was faking her fear as a ruse to lure the Saviours into a trap (my wife thought otherwise and she was right). Carol didn’t want to kill anymore because of her own guilt and remorse but she also couldn’t bear to see Maggie hurt – she broke in the worst way because it all became too much. Her tormentor, on the other hand, had given in to the logic of the apocalypse and this counterpoint highlighted a fundamental flaw in our protagonists.

It’s exactly this flaw that continues to see Rick and his group dominated by other survivors. Whilst the idea of the family unit is what makes the group so strong and capable of overcoming hardships, it is also what makes them so vulnerable. Caring for people means that it can be used against you. Similarly, holding on to old ideas mean that you’ve yet to accept the reality of the situation – one which is absolutely brutal.

And, this is none more so portrayed in the gruesomely terrifying opening episode of season 7. I’ve yet to watch the rest of the series but if that was a starter of things to come, it’s going to be rough for our protagonists.

Season 6 is an odd one, basically it sets up the introduction of the Saviours and its impact by allowing us to think that Alexandria is, perhaps, the end of the journey. That, though the apocalypse rages on, the group had survived and found a place to fortify and settle. Yet, much like the prison, threats abound. Once again, it let’s hope in, only to have it smashed to pieces with a barbed wire wrapped baseball bat.

Now, all I need to do is find the time to watch season 7…