Don’t Quit On Daredevil: Season 3

ScreenRant.com is saying that a lot of people gave up on Daredevil: Season 3.  If you’re one of those viewers, give it another try.  I finished this latest season about a week ago, and I have to tell you that after reflecting on it, I think this season is my favorite of all the Netflix Marvel shows.

First of all, the smartest of all the Marvel shows got even smarter.  Everyone in this series has actual motivation.  The plot unfolds organically and without any abrupt shifts in direction or tone.  Almost everything in this season actually makes sense.  One event leads to the next, which leads to the next, which leads to the next.

Consequently, the pacing is what actually makes this season my favorite.  The Netflix Marvel shows have had disastrous pacing issues–particularly in regards to Luke Cage and Iron FistDaredevil: Season 3 moves at a quick pace, and the story keeps developing from episode to episode to episode.  Other Marvel series have felt like three or four different story arcs within a single season.  Oftentimes they have an out-of-the-blue event occur around episode 7 or 8 that changes everything.  Not so with this one.  In fact, it’s the first time I didn’t tell myself (regarding a Netflix Marvel show) that thirteen episodes was too long.  I wanted more!

I groaned a bit when I heard Bullseye would be the villain of this season because he’s about as cliched a villain as you can get.  Fortunately, they grew “Dex” Poindexter into an antagonist only as the show progressed.  Getting him to that point was a slow burn.  Best of all, they never actually called him “Bullseye.”  Dex got more and more interesting as the show moved along in large part due to his mental torment.  I won’t spoil it for you, but they were quite creative in displaying this anguish.  Poindexter does awful things in this season, yet he is not entirely unlikable.  You can’t help but empathize with his plight a bit, especially because he can turn on the charm when he wants to.  I felt his frustration at being a hero when his talent for killing was done on behalf of the government, yet, when not working on behalf of his country, he was deemed a criminal.

Of course, I love Vincent D’Onofrio as Wilson Fisk.  He, too, while certainly a villain, is a complicated man who is actually worthy of sympathy from time to time.  D’Onofrio plays him with such repression–it’s something to behold.  I love that Fisk is constantly flexing his fingers or working his hands.  He always seems as though he’s just barely constraining himself.  I’ve heard some say that D’Onofrio plays him too over the top, but I think it’s perfect.  Fisks merciless intellect always makes him a formidable opponent.

Jay Ali proved a welcome addition to the cast.  He played FBI agent Ray Nadeem.  Nadeem found himself at the center of everything in this season, and suffered as a result.  Ali delivered an average man just trying to do the right thing, and he showed us just how convoluted the “right thing” can be.  Nadeem provided a necessary emotional tether to the season that helped me to invest in the entire story as a whole.

Charlie Cox, though, is what makes this season something special.  This man is the perfect embodiment of Matt Murdock.  I think leaving the costume behind, having Murdock go back to the black shirt and pants really brought this series back to it’s street-level grittiness.  Murdock’s crisis of conscience, his battle with this faith, and his obsession with Fisk drove this season forward.  Cox benefited from getting to be the star of the show again.  He didn’t have to compete with an Electra or a Punisher taking up his screen time.  He didn’t have a gang of mystical ninjas to defeat.  He just had to outsmart Wilson Fisk, which is awfully hard to do, especially when you’ve got a man throwing items in your direction at terminal velocity.  The simplicity of this intricate plot made this season very entertaining.  It never got too big, but it never felt small, either.

Is this season perfect?  No, it’s not.  I think they don’t quite know what to do with Foggy Nelson, and I personally believe that Elden Henson is playing him more and more as a type rather than as a person.  Deborah Ann Woll, conversely, has gotten better and better as Karen Page.  The only misstep they had with her character involved an entire episode devoted to her background which was completely unneeded.  I’m also not a fan of a hero fighting an evil version of himself or herself.  If you’ve seen the trailers, you know that Dex himself dons the Daredevil costume.  They have a good reason for it that serves the story very well, but it’s still a pet peeve of mine.  I guess I should be glad they didn’t put him in the comic book version of the Bullseye costume.

As always, the fight scenes were incredible.  These feel like real brawls–everyone looks exhausted by the end of them.  There’s a prison fight and a fight in a church that are just flat-out amazing.

Because of Murdock’s complex identity issues regarding his alias, his faith, and even his morals, and because of the well-paced, methodical character development regarding Poindexter, Fisk, and Nadeem, I found this season extremely satisfying.  I was hooked on Season 3 by the first episode, but if you gave up on it for some reason, I hope you’ll give it another chance.  I think you’ll end up loving it as much as I did.

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

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GLOW: Season 2 — Even Better Than the First

GLOW: Season 2 outshines the first for the very simple reason that much of the groundwork for this ensemble cast has already been laid.  Season 1 entertained and impressed in many unexpected ways, but it still had the task of introducing us to the characters and getting them onto the mat.  Season 2 benefits in that it can build on what came before and really explore these interesting people.

Make no mistake–these are wonderful characters.  Yes, it’s a program about an all-female wrestling show set in the early 80s and much of the comedy centers around that scenario, but these are very real people being portrayed.  All of them are lovable in their own way, and all of them are awful in their own way.  They each have their victories, but they all suffer their indignities as well.  The magic is that the actors have managed to make us care about each and every one of them.

What I like best about this second season is the writing.  Many of the supporting characters get fleshed out this time around.  It’s intriguing to learn about who they are, what makes them tick, and why in the world they got involved with this crazy show!  We become much better acquainted particularly with Kia Stevens’ character named Tamme Dawson.  It would not be easy to be a black woman playing a character named Welfare Queen, and both Stevens and the writers do a magnificent job of exploring that conflict.

Even better than the characterization, though, is the tight–so tight!–plot.  Little moments in the early episodes are hugely important later.  Yet it all feels natural and organic.  The plot isn’t forced, but it all ties together so nicely.  I could be wrong, but I got the feeling that the writers had this entire season perfectly laid out before they even started shooting the first episode.

Furthermore, the main characters became even more complex.  Debbie Eagon (played by Betty Gilpin) evolves as a businesswoman taking control of her own professional life, yet her personal life is falling apart as she struggles with divorce.  She also teeters precariously close to becoming the show’s villain which is an interesting development considering that she’s the star all-American wrestler on the roster.  It would be so easy to make her the obvious heel, but they don’t.  They instead present her as a woman who makes a few bad decisions but ultimately tries to make good even as she keeps her own self-interests at the forefront of her mind.  See what I mean?  Wonderfully complicated.

Allison Brie’s character, Ruth Wilder, is just as enthusiastic and positive as ever, yet she can get very close to annoying.  She never quite crosses that line, but there are moments when you can understand Debbie’s frustrations with her.  Debbie and Ruth are so charismatic because they are utterly realistic.  Like all of us, they have moments where they are at their best, but also moments where they are at their worst.  Ruth is also far from perfect, but she’s learned from her mistakes during the first season.  Amid the first season, her adultery always cast a shadow over her.  That shadow disperses this second season and they seem to have opted to give her some time in the light to make up for the first season.

Marc Maron’s character, Sam Sylvia, started out the season as an absolute jerk who couldn’t care less about his wrestlers, but by the season’s end–well, he’s still a jerk–but he becomes someone we can’t help but love.  There are moments when he finally reaches self-awareness and owns his shortcomings.  Sometimes he just flat-out admits why he’s being so crass.  Those instances really touched me.  I wish I could just say why I’m being so difficult like he finally does.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but watching his evolution as a father, a director, a friend, and a person really brought me joy.  He’s still a cranky old man, don’t worry, but now he’s the kind you want to hang out with anyway.

I’d finally like to touch on Bash Howard, played by Chris Lowell.  Bash originally seemed to be the dim-witted millionaire producer–an ardent wrestling fan with the means to make the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling a reality.  In this second season, Bash is still a little naive, yet his simple innocence really pays off regarding his friend and butler, Florian.  Florian is missing the entire season with Bash doing his best to locate him.  Florian’s whereabouts are finally revealed, and Bash is absolutely stunned.  It seems he didn’t really know his friend at all, and it’s heavily hinted that Bash may not fully even know himself.  Lowell plays Bash with such unassuming charm that it’s hard not to love the guy.  He could have come off as a rich, pampered moron, but instead he’s written and performed as someone just trying to make dreams come true.  Again, isn’t that all of us?

I’d also like to commend the cast on introducing some serious wrestling moves in Season 2.  I can’t say for sure, but it looks to me like Brie and Gilpin are doing a lot of their own wrestling, and these are more than simple headlocks.  For actors, especially Gilpin, to execute some technically difficult wrestling maneuvers really speaks to their dedication to the characters.  I appreciate the symmetry of it because, ironically, their characters are just mastering the moves as well since they are new to wrestling.  It’s an interesting learning curve to behold both on the show and in reality.

Finally, GLOW captures the 80s perfectly.  The hair, the fashion, the cars, the food, the music–everything!  My wife and I feel like we’ve stepped into a time machine when we watch it.  There is one episode during Season 2 in which it is made to look like an actual episode of the show on your TV during the 80s.  It’s got the square screen, the locally made commercials–it’s perfect.  It looks exactly like I remember TV from the early 80s.  They really outdid themselves.

If you’re looking for a show with short episodes, magnetic characters, great writing, and funny comedy mixed in with an actual story about real people, GLOW is for you.  There really isn’t anything else like it on TV.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s latest book HERE!)

Jessica Jones: Season 2 – A Netflix Review

I really enjoyed the first season of Jessica Jones.  The series had such a strong concept.  It definitely wasn’t a super hero show, yet it featured a character with super human strength … who didn’t necessarily want her powers.  She mostly just wanted to be left alone.  The series felt far more like a thriller than an action-adventure.  With David Tenant’s Kilgrave, the series also struck a deeply disturbing psychological note.  Krysten Ritter’s Jones wanted to forget about her past by drinking herself silly, wasn’t interested in being nice, and certainly wasn’t out to save the day.  I believe, overall, it may be the strongest of Netflix’s Marvel series due to excellent pacing, interesting characterization, a consistent tone, and a cohesive plot.

So, as you have probably guessed, I very much looked forward to the second season.  Unfortunately, I knew by the first episode that this season would be different.

At the risk of sounding too harsh, all thirteen episodes of season two disappointed me.

Jessica Jones: Season Two is cliched, boring, and a disservice to the first season.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but Jessica Jones herself has gone from being charmingly cranky to just annoying.  The huffs, the sighs, the eye rolls, the monotone vocal delivery — she’s become one-dimensional.  All of those things seemed appropriate in the first season.  Combine those things with the second season’s primary antagonist and she’s comes off as, well … a brat.

And that pretty much describes everyone in the second season.  Trish Walker, who was pretty interesting in the first season, is now a shadow of her former self and incredibly unlikable.  Malcom is all over the place — a doormat one minute, a boy toy the next, and then a ruthless businessman?  Wasn’t that Foggy’s character arc?  Hogarth, the heartless lawyer, actually turns out to be the most sympathetic of all, but in doing so utterly contradicts every other previous appearance of the character.  Luke Cage makes no appearance at all, which is a shame because Colter and Ritter had great chemistry and made season one very enjoyable.  Kilgrave appears for five minutes, and those five minutes were a delight.  Ritter and Tennant are amazing on screen together, which is partly why season one succeeded so well.

Season two lacks any plot in which the audience can invest.  Season one featured a real mystery and characters that were truly opposite of Jones that allowed her to shine all the more.  In season two, everyone is kind of like Jones, which is, frankly, depressing.  Everyone is damaged goods.  There is no character representing hope, or nobility, or morality.  When Jones is forced to be these things, it doesn’t work.  She’s not especially hopeful, or noble, or moral.  She’s fun when she gets to be the “bad cop” working off of others serving as her foil.  It’s not fun when an entire show drowns in hopelessness, immorality, and dreariness.

The show also falls prey to the worse of the genre’s cliches.  Unresolved family issues that create arrested development — check.  Evil version of protagonist with the same basic power set — check.  Clandestine corporate entity that creates protagonist and antagonist for murky reasons at best — check.  Misjudgment of audience’s interest in “origin story” — check.  Mommy issues — check.

In my opinion, the first season of Jessica Jones may be the best of all the Netflix Marvel shows.  The second season, unquestionably, is the worst.

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

 

Altered Carbon – A Netflix Series Review

Based on a book, Altered Carbon is a Netflix series set in the distant future where people have the ability to store their personality and memories in a disk at the back base of their neck.  If their body dies, they can have their disk inserted into a new body, thus allowing someone to effectively live forever.  If they have enough money, that is.

Altered Carbon is a fascinating concept.  It’s part hard-boiled mystery, part techno thriller, part philosophical exploration, part social commentary, and part action extravaganza … but it’s not really completely anything.

Well, that’s not entirely true.  I watched it purely for the eye-popping special effects.  In my opinion, this show utilizes some cutting-edge techniques that I haven’t seen before.  In that regard, it’s a raging success.

But, let’s face it — the dialogue is really, really bad.  I know some will say the show endeavored to achieve a pulp noir quality, but I find that to be a poor excuse for lazy writing.  Couple the lackluster dialogue with actors of only adequate talent and you have some difficult scenes to endure.  I know that sounds mean, and I’m very sorry to all of the actors and writers.  I don’t want to offend, but I also want to write an objective review.

Of course, the negative qualities mentioned is the trade-off for exquisite special effects.  As much as Netflix seems willing to spend, even they must have limits.  It’s obvious their budget went toward the special effects, not necessarily the actors.  Don’t get be wrong–the actors are fine.  They are good.  Just … none of them are great.

Should you watch this series?  If you’re into science fiction and special effects, I’d give it a shot.  It never quite finds its voice, nor does it really gain solid traction in terms of story, but it comes close enough on both counts to remain an interesting watch.  Again, at the risk of becoming redundant, the special effects are mesmerizing.  Beware, though, there is some heavy nudity in almost each of the ten episodes and the violence is pretty graphic from time to time.

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

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!

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

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.

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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.

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