Regarding the First Five Episodes of Iron Fist

I got really nervous a few weeks ago because the critics were slamming Iron Fist.  Generally speaking, they accused the first six episodes of lacking direction, excitement, or any real sense of danger.

Fortunately, I decided to watch it anyway.  I’m here to tell you – in regards to the first five episodes, the critics got it wrong.

Let’s be honest, though, all of the Netflix Marvel shows have minor flaws.  Generally speaking, they are very good.  But, most have pacing issues.  It’s my opinion that all of them last three to five episodes too long.

Though Iron Fist is not as socially relevant as Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, or Daredevil, it’s still a lot of fun.  Danny Rand (Iron Fist) is not especially tortured, the show takes place so far mostly during the daylight hours, and the plot is pretty straightforward.

I won’t say Finn Jones, who plays Danny Rand/Iron Fist, is the world’s greatest actor, but he definitely wields a charm as the title character that is pretty magnetic.  He tends to deliver his lines with the same cadence and inflection no matter what he says, but I can’t tell if that’s signifying his inner peace or if it’s just bad acting.  I’m guessing it’s the former.  I think it’s interesting that Jones plays Rand rather boyish in a lot of ways.  He dresses like a grown up ten-year-old, and he intermittently tosses out a quick “awesome” or “cool” just as a child would.  Of course, this makes sense considering the character’s circumstances.  However, when it comes time for the action, Jones appears more than capable.  I believe at those moments that he is the Iron Fist.

Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing is definitely stealing the show.  Her subplot feels totally organic to Rand’s and she is just all kinds of cool.  So far, nothing about her (or the show) feels forced.  This is a good thing.  She just gets better and better with each episode.

Joy and Ward Meachum, the brother and sister duo running Danny’s father’s company, at first really annoyed me.  I won’t say much about them, but both have grown on me quite a bit.  They are far more complicated than I initially expected.  They are also far more sympathetic than I originally suspected.

That’s all I want to say for now because I don’t want to spoil anything for you.  Though you don’t have to watch the other Netflix Marvel shows to get on board Iron Fist, there are plenty of nuggets to enjoy if you’ve been watching them all.

The critics seem to have it wrong in this case.  Iron Fist has interesting characters, a decent plot, lots of great action, actors that play well off of each other, and two very charismatic performances by Finn Jones and Jessica Henwick.

I’m sure there will be a lull before too long, because that just tends to happen with these shows, but so far I have no complaints.  If you’ve been on the fence with Iron Fist, I recommend you give it a try!

Image result for iron fist netflix poster

(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

An Open, Encouraging Letter To Ben Affleck

Ben Affleck, the rumors are swirling that you want to give up playing Batman.  Please don’t.

The Internet can be a beautiful, wonderful place full of information, inspiration, and innovation.  Unfortunately, it can also be a putrid pit of negativity.  It certainly seems as though only those with vile complaints take the time to make their voices heard on the Web.

Well, Ben Affleck, it’s time to spread some positivity.

I’m a lifelong Bat-fan.  As a forty-year-old high school English teacher (and, yes, I am working on a novel—it’s mandatory), Batman has been a constant in my life since 1980.  For the English teachers out there, that’s thirty-seven years.

I’ve enjoyed Batman teaming up with Scooby-Doo, I loved the Super Friends, Adam West will always hold a special place in my heart, Michael Keaton and Tim Burton blew my mind, The Animated Series proved itself a masterpiece, Frank Miller scared me while aweing me, Val Kilmer didn’t scar me, George Clooney kinda did, and then Christian Bale and Christopher Nolan took Batman someplace both old and new in a way that felt important.

But you, Ben Affleck, you’re doing something that’s never been done before.  You are laying the groundwork for a cinematic Batman that must play with others.  No one else had the guts to do what you guys are doing.  No one else dared put Batman’s dark costume on the same screen as the Flash’s, Wonder Woman’s, or Superman’s only slighter less dark costume.  You dared take Batman back to his vigilante roots, and you are brave enough to depict his evolution not only into a team player, but the heart and soul of the Justice League.  Batman has endured a long and illustrious cinematic life, but you are truly breaking new ground.

I know the trolls have been really tough on you.  I understand you are sick and tired of fielding questions about a movie you haven’t even started filming yet.  I recognize that the expectations are impossible to meet.  In the here and now, you have a thankless job.  But please keep the big picture in mind.  You have a vision for where you want to take this character.  You see the end result, though it may be years away.  In time, people will appreciate you and your efforts.  You will win over the haters, trust me.

How do I know this, Ben Affleck?  I’m a diehard Batman fan, and you won me over immediately.  I am being totally honest when I say that I loved Batman v Superman.  I acknowledge it as the initial step in a marathon.   Of course Batman and Superman wouldn’t get along at first!  But, with his death, Batman realizes the great ally he’s lost, and with Superman’s eventual return, both men will recognize even further the good they can do.  In a way, Justice League will echo The Lego Batman Movie – Batman is ultimately a family man.   The orphan always builds his own family.  He has an army of Robins and a multiverse of teammates.  The aloof Dark Knight is nothing of the sort.  You are depicting the advancement of a brooding cynical man believing in heroes again and leading those heroes to a better tomorrow.  In the end, everyone will see that.

So, please, don’t step away.  Don’t interrupt the journey you’ve begun.  Anytime you’re feeling blue, get in touch and I’ll build you back up.  Want to know why you’re my third favorite Batman?  (Sorry, you’ve yet to top Adam West and Michael Keaton.  You’ve got to win over my inner child with those two guys and I just don’t know if that’s possible.)  First of all, you’re big, man.  I mean, you’re a really big dude.  Batman is also a big dude.  And, please don’t take this the wrong way, but you can deliver the smug, arrogant Batman/Bruce Wayne for which we’ve all been pining.  There’s an intelligence behind your eyes that make us believe this is the world’s greatest detective.  You ooze charm, both with the mask on and off.  You can look intimidating as hell one minute, and then project a heart-breaking inner turmoil the next.  You’re able to take every dimension of Batman that we love and combine it into your performance.  Furthermore, you’ve got great chemistry with Gal Gadot, and Batman must always have chemistry with Wonder Woman.  It’s geek law.

Ignore the hate, Ben Affleck. Persevere.  Know that you’ve really struck a chord with Bat-fans everywhere.  Sadly, as a society, we’re slow to heap praise.  Well, I’m heapin’, baby!  I believe in your vision, your performance, and your interpretation.  I believe, in the end, you will be the Batman for generations to come.

Of course, this could all just be a power play to gain leverage on the studio for some reason.  In which case, I wish you luck.  Whatever the case may be, my sentiments remain unchanged!

Related image

Why the Amazon Show Fleabag Deserves Your Attention   

I first heard about the Amazon comedy Fleabag from Glen Weldon during NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Weldon made a point to let the listening audience know that Fleabag is so much more than it seems.  He referenced in particular the final episode, which, according to Weldon, proved especially poignant.

What can I say?  Weldon’s praise captured my interest.  Best of all, the first season is only six episodes long, with each episode averaging not quite half an hour.  That’s the sort of fleeting commitment I adore in a show.

I introduced the possibility to my wife.  I sold it to her much the same as Weldon sold it to me, and she also seemed interested in the concept of the show.  Plus, we agreed that if either of us didn’t care for the first episode, we would jettison it from our lives and move on.

We obviously both liked it or I wouldn’t be writing about it so exhaustively and, perhaps by the time you’re done reading, exhaustingly …

The show features a British woman in her early thirties in England.  She is never mentioned by name, but the summary of each show refers to her as “Fleabag.”  Yes, “Fleabag.”  Only as “Fleabag.”  She has a habit of speaking to the camera with brief asides and explanations, letting us in on a particular joke or an integral piece of information.  When we first meet her, she is having sex with a man while offering us a play by play of the activity and even adding in a few predictions of what’s to come.  When the man rolls her over in order to use a different <ahem!> … orifice, “Fleabag” reacts unexpectedly, hilariously, and in such a way that we learn everything we need to know about her.

Or so we think.

The actress playing “Fleabag” is Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and she is absolutely charming, which is astounding because she’s playing a character that should be utterly unlikable.  Her little quips to the camera are typically biting, but it’s her facial expressions that won my wife and me over.  She will deliver the most amazing joke with nothing more than a lift of her eyebrow.  She will let you know exactly what she’s thinking with a quick glare.  Honestly, Waller-Bridge entertained to no end and enriched a character that really wouldn’t work if played by someone else.

Be warned, though, this is a raunchy show.  There are many sexual situations, loads of suggestive dialogue, and ample visits by sex toys.  The language is rough, very rough, with “f-bombs” galore.  However, I wouldn’t describe it as a “dirty” show.  There is virtually no nudity by actual human beings.  If I remember, there was an errant breast coming out of a shirt and a few shots of men’s rear ends.  The most explicit things on camera were often, again, the sex toys (which were not actually in use).

So while this is a comedy, it slowly revealed itself to be something far more, just as Glen Weldon said.  I want to offer caution here, because while I will not explicitly spoil anything past the second episode, you will more than likely be able to connect a few dots.  It’s just that I can’t really address what moved me the most about this show without getting into a few specific details …

You learn early on that Fleabag (I’m dropping the quotes from here on out) is fairly amoral.  She’s not necessarily out to purposefully hurt anyone, but her impulsivity and lack of forethought to both word and deed often upsets someone in her immediate vicinity, whether strangers, friends, or family.  Actually, she doesn’t have any friends.  More on that later …

She has no qualms in taking advantage of someone to meet her own agenda, nor does she mind being taken advantage of so long as that also ultimately suits her base desires.  I wouldn’t call her a master manipulator, but she is a manipulator, to be sure.

Fleabag sleeps around, steals, drinks too much, curses, degrades people, and cuts corners whenever possible.  It’s no wonder she’s friendless.

But she hasn’t always been.

In fact, we learn through flashbacks that Fleabag had a wonderful friend, one whom she loved dearly.  They opened a café together.  Sadly, though, her friend died, leaving Fleabag with the failing café, no other real friends, and a spiraling case of depression that becomes more and more obvious as the series progresses.

Her sister, Claire, humors Fleabag as best she can.  Claire is also a complicated person, though, with issues of her own.  Though very successful, Claire cannot seem to relent control to anyone, cannot navigate a dubious marriage, and cannot achieve enough introspection to glean what she really wants from life.  She has much in common with Fleabag, but she manages normalcy in the outside world far more productively.

Her father has remarried after the death of Fleabag’s mother due to breast cancer.  His new wife is actually the sisters’ godmother, a family friend since their childhood.  The stepmother is the portrait of passive aggressiveness as she makes the sisters feel unwelcome all the while with a smile plastered across her face.  The sisters hate her, she hates them, and the father seems too meek to confront either situation.  In the process, Fleabag appears, though she never gives voice to it, to feel as though she’s lost her father as well as her mother.

The show achieves originality when you slowly begin to realize that Fleabag’s abysmal behavior is absolutely the byproduct of guilt, anger, depression and low self-esteem.  It never crosses over into cliché, it never dives into pop psychology, but it does become very apparent that she only feels of value when someone sexually craves her.  She uses sex as therapy for all of her issues, but never realizes the promiscuous sex is only compounding her problems.

Yeah, pretty deep territory for a comedy.

Furthermore, we can relate to her.  I think we’ve all done something we wish we hadn’t in the hopes of acquiring someone’s approval or favor.  She’s a likable person doing very unlikable things, and I know I personally can say I’ve been there as well.  Haven’t we all in some facet or another?

This character has lost her best friend.  Her sister doesn’t trust her.  Her father will not stand up for her.  Her stepmother detests her.  She’s losing her business.  She can’t pay her bills.  She has every reason in the world not to give a shit about anything.

Which she doesn’t.

Until … she does.

The beauty of that sixth episode is what happens when she does finally care.  How will her family react when she actually tries to engage them meaningfully?  How will she respond when she finally faces the truth of her friend’s death?  What happens when she gazes within and attains a manner of self-realization?

Comedy!

Honestly, Fleabag is hilarious, but it doesn’t shy away from these profoundly important moments.  It never feels heavy even as it’s dealing with incredibly troubling material, and it always prompts an uncomfortable chuckle, an awkward giggle, and an inappropriate laugh at just the wrong time.  It is a serious show wrapped so deeply within a comedy that it’s not until you think about each episode afterwards that you realize its gravitas.

Glen Weldon, you were right.  Fleabag is definitely worth a watch.

P.S.  I know I didn’t discuss her timid boyfriend, whom she pushes away at every opportunity.  I’ve written over a 1,000 words at this point, and frankly, he would require another 1,000, and I won’t be presumptuous enough to believe I deserve that much of your attention.  Plus, it’s late.  And, I’m tired.  Good night.

A Daddy’s Dilemma: The Story Of Star Wars, My Daughter, and a Christmas Recital

Little has tested my mettle as a father like the recent decision made by my four-year-old daughter.  This daughter, whom I love with all my heart, has never before been willing to participate in any kind of recital, play, or even–until mere months ago–photographs.  Imagine my utter panic when she announced that this year would be unlike any other in that she would like to take part in her daycare’s Christmas recital.

I know what you’re thinking.  Yes, I said “utter panic.”

Ordinarily I would be overjoyed at the prospect of my four-year-old defeating her reluctance to appear in public performances, especially those captured by photographic means.  Normally I would encourage her, support her, and champion her every step of the way.

Unfortunately, there is one small, minor, miniscule, tiny, minute problem.  You see, her star debut happens to coincide with Star Wars: Rogue One.  To be more precise, it occurs at the exact time printed on the advance tickets I bought for Rogue One’s opening night.

I am something of  Star Wars fan.  I grew up with the original trilogy, made lightsabers out of wrapping paper tubes, and nearly lost my sanity when I somehow misplaced my Jedi Knight Luke Skywalker.  You know, the one in the black outfit with the green lightsaber.  (My father found him several months later in the garden.  To this day, I blame my older brother [but don’t tell him I said that].)  I have been looking forward to Rogue One for an eternity.  When tickets were announced, I stalked my favorite theater’s website waiting for them to go on sale.  This theater has reserved seating, so they tend to release their tickets sporadically, one day at a time.  It can be maddening.  However, my efforts were rewarded.  I eventually got the seats I wanted at the time I wanted.  Ah, the benefits of patience resulting from middle age coupled with a credit card …  Life was good.  So good.

Cue the bomb dropping.  We were actually on the way to my eight-year-old’s Christmas recital when my four-year-old proclaimed from the backseat that this year she too would espouse the merits of Christ, Rudolph, and jolly old Saint Nick.  “What?” I cried.  “That’s wonderful!”  My wife joined in, exclaiming, “We’re so proud of you!”

I then asked my wife what date the recital would occur.

I then asked my wife at what time the recital would occur.

“Are you sure, honey?” I erupted.  “I mean, you know, you’ve never wanted to do it before?  Are you positive this is the year?”

My wife slowly said my name.  This was meant as a hint.  I totally picked up on it.  But that didn’t stop me.

“I mean, we don’t want your daycare to plan on you being there and then you back out on them, you know?”

My wife calmly asked me at what point I’d lost my mind.  “See,” I whispered to her, “it’s just that, you know, I’ve got Rogue One tickets that night.”  Her face told me she failed to comprehend the issue.  “Not just that night, but at that exact time,” I enlightened.

My four-year-old overheard me and said, and there is not an ounce of embellishment added to this, “I don’t want to do it if Daddy isn’t there.”

Well, shit.

So, guess what I’m doing right now?  That’s right, I’m stalking my favorite theater’s website, waiting for those weekend tickets to go on sale.  Yeah, I know opening weekend can’t compare to opening night, but I can’t be the guy who skips his daughter’s first Christmas recital to go see Star Wars.  I wish I could tell you that my heart is swelling with love and that I gave up those tickets without a moment’s hesitation.  I wish I could tell you that I can’t wait to sit through forty-five minutes of babies, toddlers, and four-year-olds singing Christmas songs.

The truth is, if I’m being honest, I’m really disappointed that I’m not seeing Rogue One on its opening night, especially considering that I scored tickets for it.  I know I’m supposed to play the good dad and say it’s not a sacrifice, that I’m happy to give up my own wants and desires for the sake of my children’s happiness.  I’m supposed to say that, but my hypocrisy would know no bounds if I did so.

In reality, I’ve got perspective enough to realize that the story of dad skipping his daughter’s first Christmas recital to see a movie would follow both of us for the rest of our lives.  It would be funny to most, but I can’t risk the impact that could have on our future relationship, even subconsciously.  And, let’s face it — I also don’t want to be judged.  So, yeah, it’s mostly shame and fear of being judged getting me to that Christmas recital.  Just let me know when and where I should appear to receive that “Father Of the Year” award.

I’ve also got perspective enough to realize that this article will serve as a confession of sorts to my daughter.  One day I’m sure I will play the martyr and bring up the fact that I gave up opening night Star Wars tickets to see her sing for five minutes.   I will play the guilt card and shamelessly use it to win every argument, every squabble, every petty disagreement.  And she can then refer to this blog post and politely tell me to stop being an asshole.  I also extend that invitation to my other daughter as well.  Print it off and keep it in your pocket, girls.

I love my daughters in ways I didn’t know existed.  They are my everything, and I will sacrifice anything and everything for them.  I strive to be that good dad, but it’s not always easy.  Actually, it’s rarely easy.  But you know what?  There will be other Star Wars opening nights.  I only get one first Christmas recital with my four-year-old.  I only get one year with her as a four-year-old.  She’ll be fourteen before I know it, and then twenty-four.  One day I will be gone and I won’t get any more time with her at all.  Whenever I feel selfish and small, I try to remember that fact: one day I won’t have any more time with my children.

So, yeah, I won’t see Rogue One on opening night.

Life is still pretty good.

Image result for rogue one movie poster

Regarding The Castle Theatre, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae

A few years ago I discovered a cool video with a great song called Bottom Of the River.  I tracked down the artists to find they were a young band out of North Carolina called Delta Rae.  I followed them casually for a few years while listening to their music intermittently.

A few weeks ago I saw through a Facebook post that Delta Rae would soon perform at The Castle Theatre, a local venue located in Bloomington, IL.  Though I’d heard fantastic things about The Castle from friends, I’d never personally visited.  I decided I’d probably never have a chance to see Delta Rae again, so I immediately bought two tickets for reserved seats.

Last night (November 30th, 2016) marked what I believe to be their second stop on the Winter Acoustic Tour.  My wife and I could not be more glad we attended their show.

First, let me offer a few words about The Castle.  I have to be honest, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the staff.  The Castle had some very large men working, but they were all incredibly polite and friendly.  Granted, I wouldn’t want to get on their bad side because some of them were the size of small mountains, but they went out of their way to make us feel welcome and even showed us to our reserved seats (which turned out to be stools).  The Castle itself is a historic theatre, and while its age showed, it also oozed charm.  We had front row balcony seats, and though the stools weren’t terribly comfortable, we had a straight view of the stage that couldn’t be beaten.  We definitely plan to visit The Castle again.  If you live in the BloNo area, make a point to take in a show.

You can check out their upcoming shows HERE.

The opening act featured a duo called Penny & Sparrow.  Truthfully – I’d never heard of the guys.  They got up on the stage wearing ugly Christmas sweaters.  One of them had nothing more than a microphone.  The other wielded a guitar with his microphone.  That was it.  No lights.  No props.  Just two microphones and one guitar.  Furthermore, these guys, frankly, did not exactly exude performers, musicians, or entertainers at first glance.  They looked a lot like guys who might be sitting in a booth next to me at a coffee shop.  Well, the minute they started singing, they proved they were supremely talented.  Their voices were powerful, they harmonized seamlessly, and their songs were absolutely beautiful.  It became apparent very soon that their tempo and pace moved slowly, but the lyrics and the melody haunted my wife and me, and I mean that as a compliment.  As a final unexpected act, between songs, they had the audience rolling.  These two men were hilarious.  They said they were best friends, and they way they bantered with each other and the audience, I believe it.  They played off of each other as only real friends can.  It proved really fun to have your soul wrenched during the music and then find yourself laughing uncontrollably when they addressed us.  Get ready for some serious deadpan when you see them.  Make no mistake, you definitely need to see them.  My wife and I immediately downloaded their album on the way home.  We found that we much prefer their “live” sound compared to their recordings.  Again, that’s meant as a compliment.

Oh, and their Christmas music?  (Don’t forget the sweaters.)  Their Christmas songs were a true pleasure.  They even have a new album aptly titled Christmas Songs.

You can visit Penny & Sparrow HERE.

As for Delta Rae – they were amazing.  The folks can flat-out sing.  Though their performance was far more “produced” than Penny & Sparrow with lights, blowing fans, and multiple instruments, those things did not overshadow their magnificent voices.  In fact, my favorite song of the night, O Come O Come Emmanuel, did not utilize a single instrument and showcased the true beauty of their voices.  While they played some of their more popular songs such as Bottom Of the River, they also performed some unexpected works including a little snippet of I Want To Dance With Somebody.  Though they were a little more stiff than Penny & Sparrow and lacked some of their opening act’s spontaneity, Delta Rae absolutely entertained the audience, and, in my case, even awed.  To have such talent – such virtuosity with instruments along with flawless voices – they were inspiring.

I also want to add that this show occurred on a cold, Wednesday night.  The Castle wasn’t even half full.  My wife and I were but a handful of people in the balcony.  I can’t imagine what runs through a band’s mind, especially one that is nationally known, to look out and see an already cozy venue only half full.  But you know what?  To Delta Rae’s credit, they performed as though thousands watched.  Though low-key, even a little awkward, between songs, these talented men and women were explosive when singing and playing.  They practically crackled with energy.  I’m not saying they were slamming into walls and smashing guitars, I’m saying they were clearly giving it everything they had.  I appreciated that kind of passion, respect, and work ethic regarding their art, their performance, and their audience.

You can visit Delta Rae HERE.

If you have a chance to see Delta Rae, along with Penny & Sparrow, I completely recommend you do so.  My wife and I had a wonderful experience with these bands.  They made us completely forget we had work the next morning.  We were absolutely content to listen to them for as long as they wanted to play.

Here’s a little picture I took with my phone.  I wasn’t sure if it was proper etiquette or not, but I wanted a physical memory, you know?

My deep thanks to The Castle, Penny & Sparrow, and Delta Rae for a delightful night.

delta-rae

A Review of Netflix’s Luke Cage

In the beginning, Netflix’s Luke Cage is a phenomenal watch.  Mike Colter is carrying the show, but he’s getting amazing support from Mahershala Ali as Cornell Stokes, Alfre Woodard as Mariah Dillard, Theo Rossi as “Shades” Alvarez, and Simone Missick as Misty Knight.  We have Cage as an escaped, bulletproof convict on the run, Cornell as a crime lord loyal to Harlem, Mariah as a crooked politician also trying to keep Harlem relevant, Shades as an ambassador to Cornell on behalf of a mysterious “Diamondback,” and Misty trying to keep an eye on each and every one of them as an officer of the law.

As you’ve already heard from those far wiser, the entire premise of a “bulletproof black man” has never been more relevant.  Cage has a heart of gold.  He wants to do the right thing.  He needs to do the right thing.  Colter emits an innate sense of nobility.  In fact, let’s be honest – Mike Colter is Luke Cage.  He’s got the size, the build, the look, and the personality.  He’s also got the undeniable, understated charisma the character has utilized for the past ten years or so.  I think maybe more than any other Marvel actor, Colter fully embodies the character he is playing.

And while the first several episodes are not perfect, they are so entertaining to watch!  Colter’s simmering hero, Ali’s unpredictable temperament, Woodard’s brilliant scheming, Rossi’s utter coolness, and Missick’s authenticity kept the show rolling forward with each actor shining in every scene.

Sure, it’s got some problems in the beginning.  Cliches abound.  The dialogue can sometimes make you cringe.  The story isn’t necessarily fresh when compared even to Cage’s fellow Defender, Daredevil.  But, though the story isn’t fresh, the show most certainly is.  Virtually every actor in this series is a person of color.  I’ve never seen such a diverse cast!  I love that Netflix had the bravery to treat Luke Cage’s world respectfully, authentically, and hired the right actors to enrich it even more.  In my mind, Luke Cage is groundbreaking in that regard.

Unfortunately, bad things can happen to great intentions, and the bad thing happened in Episode 7 that detracted and ultimately ruined the entire series.

(SPOILER’S AHEAD)

When Ali’s Cottonmouth died, the show effectively ended.  It became painfully obvious that Ali could not be replaced as a vital component of Luke Cage, and when he left the show, it suffered.  The actors previously mentioned worked in perfect harmony with each other to create a mood, an atmosphere, a vibe on the show that simply no longer worked without Ali’s Cottonmouth.

Soon after Cottonmouth’s demise, Diamondback appears, and that’s when Luke Cage became almost unwatchable.  In fact, had it not been for Rosario Dawson doing her best to keep the show aloft, I may have completely thrown in the towel.

Without Cottonmouth, each and every character lost his or her way.  The show lost its way.  Diamondback introduced every terrible trope and cliche imaginable.  For example, he uses alien tech from “the incident” to mimic Cage’s strength, though it never explains how he acquired the technology nor how he has enough prowess to adapt it.  Diamondback also uses the alien tech to create “magic” bullets capable of piercing Cage’s skin. Oh, and for good measure, he’s Luke Cage’s heretofore unknown half-brother.  You know what, let’s go ahead and make him spout passages from the Bible as well, because, you know, why not?  Super suit at the end of the series?  Sure thing, even if it does look ridiculous.  And that’s just the beginning, folks.

Furthermore, Diamondback has no investment in Harlem, not like the other main characters, and so when he arrives spouting crazy and using super bullets, the other characters have no choice but to sink to his level.  It’s no longer about their personal stories and how they each must coexist within Harlem, now it’s about dealing with a “super villain” who lives up to just about every awful stereotype you can imagine.

Cage became wishy-washy with an unnecessary backstory way too similar to Wolverine’s.  Misty Knight became a complete contradiction.  Dillard became a nutjob.  And Shades.  Cool, smart, composed Shades.  When with Cottonmouth, Shades was the voice of reason.  He kept Cottonmouth calm, reminding him that Diamondback wouldn’t like Cottonmouth disturbing the natural order of the streets too much.  But when Diamondback actually shows up, he does nothing to make us believe Shades would ever follow such a juvenile lunatic, nor does he match the intellect and competency Shades previously described.

I think Luke Cage went about six episodes too long.  Ending on episode 7 or 8, using Cottonmouth’s murder as the season’s climax, would have been a good idea.  Introducing Diamondback completely altered the soul of the show and, ultimately, ruined it.

Image result for luke cage netflix

A Review of Netflix’s Easy

My wife and I were between shows, so when I saw the addition of Easy to Netflix and read the description, I thought we’d try it, especially because it’s only eight episodes and less than thirty minutes per episode.

It’s an anthology series with the city of Chicago as the common setting of the characters.  Each episode, for the most part, focuses on different people.  Some of these men and women bleed into other characters’ stories, some appear only once.  Some are married, some are lovers, some are family, and some aren’t initially connected at all.

This show is absolutely character and relationship driven.  I personally found the complexities of the relationships authentic, and that’s where much of the comedy derives. People, especially couples, are strange, and this show has no fear exploring the characters’ singularities.

Because each installment ends on an ambiguous note, I think short story lovers will particularly enjoy Easy.  There is a great deal of interpretation required.  In fact, each episode is very much like a short story in that characters are introduced quickly, conflicts arise, change occurs, and then the plot is mostly, if not always clearly, concluded.  And though lots of information is conveyed in a brief amount of time, the episodes always feel evenly paced, organic, and patient.

I particularly appreciated how honest many of the scenes felt.  To some of them my wife and I could very much relate, others made us gasp in horror.  All of it felt well within the realm of possibility, even if not always our reality.  The characters in Easy are very real … I’m willing to bet you know a few of them.

It’s not all perfect, though.  I haven’t researched how much of this show is scripted and how much is improvisation, but there were many times when the actors rambled and seemed unsure of what they were supposed to say next.  If they were going for a realistic, conversational tone, they missed the mark.  When this occurred the actors appeared as though they either didn’t know what they should say next, or that they were trying too hard to convey that they didn’t know what to say next.

Easy is poorly rated on Netflix, which I don’t understand.  I rate it very highly.  The emotional resonance, character authenticity, humor, and loosely related episodes drew me in and kept me interested.

Just be aware that some of the episodes get a little naughty, especially the Orlando Bloom piece.  Put the kids to bed before you make it Easy.

Image result for easy poster netflix