Ready To See a New Doctor?

If you’re not a fan of Doctor Who, I get it.  I totally get it.  The only reason I started watching Doctor Who a few years ago is because I knew nothing about it and I felt like such ignorance really diminished my geek cred.  Seriously.  I had no idea what the word “TARDIS” even meant.

At first, truthfully, I considered the show idiotic.  I began with the Ninth Doctor, as my nerdy friends told me to do.  The plots were, for the most part, campy, the special effects were silly, and the characters were ludicrous.

But then a strange thing happened.  I slowly but surely fell in love with it all.  I embraced the goofiness, the hyperbole, and the entire zany mythology.  I finally recognized the brilliance of it just as thousands of others had during the last fifty years.

My point is, if you’ve ever been curious about the Doctor (never call the actual character Doctor Who), there’s no better time to jump on board than tomorrow, October 7th.

For the fist time since the character’s arrival in 1962, a woman will play the Doctor.

If you’re unaware of the premise, and I promise not to bog you down too much in the details, the Doctor is an alien who can travel through time and space.  The Doctor is usually a champion for life, justice, and mercy.  Because of the character’s species, the Doctor never dies, but instead regenerates into a new body.  Therefore, even though at least fourteen people have played the Doctor (yes, nerds, I’m counting John Hurt’s War Doctor), the character has theoretically been the same consciousness.

But tomorrow, Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor will change everything … and I can’t wait.

Sure, since it’s return to television in 2005, Doctor Who has tried to keep things fresh.  I can’t say I ever got bored watching the series!  David Tennant played a lovable hero, Matt Smith a charismatic mad man, and Peter Capaldi a cranky favorite uncle, but no one will completely alter the character’s trajectory like Jodie Whittaker by virtue of her gender alone.

As a writer, I would love this opportunity!  This new Doctor can do something the character hasn’t been able to do since 1962 — convey a female perspective on the ensuing adventures.  There are virtually limitless storytelling openings now.

As a fan, I’m equally excited.  I love all of the actors who played the Doctor, but with Whittaker I know every episode to come is going to be unlike any other.

My desire is that they don’t have Whittaker playing a man in a woman’s body — I sincerely hope she plays the Doctor as an actual woman and everything that transformation encapsulates.

Best of all?  For the first time, I’m planning to let my ten and six-year-old daughters watch Doctor Who with me.  Though the show is all in good fun, I worried in the past that the aliens and monsters might give them nightmares.  This is a historic evolution to the character, though, and I want them to take part in it from Day One.  I love the fact that my daughters now have a Doctor of their own, a Jedi of their own, and super heroes of their own.  They get to take joy in the very same concepts that have delighted me during my life, but in a way that speaks uniquely to them.

So like I said, if you’ve ever been curious about the Doctor, tomorrow is the time to make an appointment.

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

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Big Little Lies – A Satisfying Experince

Like all of you, my wife and I heard great things about this seven-episode HBO series.  At under an hour apiece, we figured we’d give it a try.

Guess what?  The rave reviews are accurate – this is an incredibly satisfying experience.

I’l describe the plot without spoiling any important revelations.  Madeline and Celeste, respectively played by Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, are best friends in a very affluent town who befriend a younger mom named Jane, played by Shailene Woodley.  Jane is apparently a single mom and new to the community.  The three woman have children the same age who attend the first grade of the local school.  On the first day of school, Jane’s child is accused of abusing a classmate, but the child proclaims innocence.  Laura Dern plays the bullied child’s mother, Renata, and she is out for blood.  Battle lines are drawn between the parents of the children and tensions are running high.  It’s then revealed that, weeks later, a murder has occurred during a fundraiser on school property, one that obviously involved parents.  The only question throughout the series remains … who was killed?  … And who did the killing?

Of course, there are many subplots to the show as well.  Nicole Kidman is trying to navigate a viciously abusive relationship with her husband; Reese Witherspoon must somehow share her oldest daughter with her ex and his second–seemingly perfect–wife played by Zoe Kravitz.  Shailene Woodley is trying to keep her sanity as her child is vilified and she strives to reconcile her own tumultuous past.

The show somehow manages to balance several elements that normally shouldn’t fit together at all.  It is darkly funny, but it’s also incredibly tense.  At times the childish behaviors of the grownups will make you cringe, but they will also touch your heart as you watch their emotions get flayed.  The abuse Nicole Kidman suffers will shock you, disgust you, and make you angry.  Yet, throughout the entire series, the mystery remains as to who got killed, and who is the murderer?  As you probably guessed, the show gives everyone a motive to kill, and everyone has also upset someone else enough to kill them.

The real magic of Big Little Lies is the editing, though.  They edited each episode brilliantly in that they keep that mystery thriving, they give you just enough information to keep you guessing without giving it all away, and they offer little snippet after little snippet to keep you coming back for more.  Furthermore, while the big mystery is obviously the grand finale, each character also has minor mysteries that are built upon and revealed little by little, which proved very satisfying as well.

That’s how I would describe Big Little Lies — satisfying.  From start to finish, each episode left me riveted.  And when the events of the murder are finally revealed?  I couldn’t have asked for a better depiction of the moment.  The set up, execution, and resolution were perfect.

I highly recommend you watch this show if you haven’t yet.  My wife and I both loved it.

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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!)

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.

You Should Be Watching Orphan Black

My wife and I have enjoyed Orphan Black for several years now, and with the revelation that next season will be the fifth and last, I urge you to get caught up now.  Season 4 just finished, so there’s no better time.  As of this writing, you can actually watch the first three seasons for free on Amazon Prime.

If you are unfamiliar with the story line, a lost soul of a woman witnesses a suicide alongside the rail tracks.  She steals the victim’s purse only to discover she looks exactly like the deceased.  Before long, the woman – Sarah – realizes she and the victim were clones of one another … and they aren’t the only ones.  A vast science fiction thrilling epic ensues.

Don’t let that term scare you – “science fiction.”  My wife doesn’t do science fiction, yet she loves Orphan Black.  Yes, the show is firmly rooted in science fiction, but it’s mostly grounded in reality, it’s mostly street level, it’s mostly a thriller with appropriate swatches of humor, and it’s extremely well acted.

In fact, to us, the main actress named Tatiana Maslany is the real reason you need to watch this show.  She plays five different cloned characters on a regular basis, as well as several others on an intermittent basis.  Each of these characters has a unique look, a specific manner of speaking, and individual body language.  Some are good, some are bad, and some are somewhere in the middle.  This actress is so masterful that we forget it’s the same person playing all of these distinct characters.  Honestly, this woman is superb.

Because the show is provocative, exciting, unpredictable, funny and amazingly acted, I can’t recommend it to you enough.  Get caught up this summer so you’re ready for the final season next April!

 

About Arrested Development Season 4

My wife and I loved Arrested Development when it aired on Fox.  Sure, it took some getting used to, but we came to adore its weird, quirky stories with such flawed, lovably dysfunctional characters.  From week to week, I’d have a new favorite Bluth, which says a lot about the show’s magic.

When we heard it was coming to Netflix to continue with a fourth season, we were elated.  Unfortunately, I’m enormously cheap and refused to open a Netflix account when we already paid for cable and Amazon Prime.  I guess my love for Arrested Development was a conditional one.

However, we recently picked it up on DVD, and though it took a few episodes to get back in the swing of things, it once again won us over and proved itself a worthy addition.

In fact, I would argue it’s the most ambitious season yet in terms of pure story execution.  If you haven’t seen it, the fourth season basically occurs over a few days.  However, each episode focuses upon one character and their perspective pertaining to the overall story.  At first it’s very confusing, to be sure, but as the episodes unfold, the audience begins to realize what’s happening.  I can’t imagine the editing process for this season, but I’m sure it was a herculean task!  Each character has a subplot, yet they all intertwine with one another.

I wouldn’t say it’s the funniest season, but it’s certainly funny and highly entertaining.  A lot of the jokes were standbys from previous seasons, but still executed creatively.  I especially enjoyed the “meta” commentary throughout.

The final episode took me aback though, because it felt a little anticlimactic and ended abruptly.  However, that could very well be by design.  After all, this news arrived just today.

Regarding NBC’s Constantine

I should say from the start that I am not a John Constantine die hard fan.  In fact, until Justice League Dark, I really wasn’t terribly familiar with the character.  I knew of him, but that was really about it.

When I heard NBC planned to air a show using the character, I got excited.  When the first photograph arrived featuring Matt Ryan bedecked in the brown trench coat, loose tie, and disheveled white shirt, I got even more excited.  It appeared as though NBC took this effort seriously.

I’ve watched the show from the start, and though I’ve had an opinion about it for a long time, I wanted to keep watching and keep watching before I voiced that opinion.  We’re now at January 28th, and I think the show has probably found its identity as much as it can for this first season.

I first want to say that Matt Ryan, in my opinion, is perfect.  He looks the part, he acts the part, and he sounds the part.  He’s got swagger, he’s got the hair, he’s got the thin frame – I think this is expert casting.  Furthermore, his face actually looks like it’s lived.  It’s got lines, it looks weathered, I believe this man has seen some serious stuff.  But it’s Ryan’s eyes that really make me believe he’s John Constantine.  When the camera pulls in tight on Ryan’s eyes, they shimmer like little beads and look both haunted, demented, and hopeful all at once.

I also appreciate the “look” of the show.  Each episode looks like a little movie.  The locations are always interesting and vivid.  Furthermore, the special effects are more than respectable, especially for being a weekly show on the small screen.

And while I watch Constantine and enjoy it, I won’t pretend it’s perfect.  The dialogue is sometimes downright awful.  The stories, supposedly based off of classic Hellblazer comics, don’t always translate well to mainstream television.  Some are better than others, and they’ve all entertained me, but none of them ever made me sit up in awe.

But the biggest problem in my mind is the acting.  Other than Matt Ryan, I don’t believe in any of the show’s characters, particularly Zed and Chas.  I realize bad dialogue can impact acting, but the actors playing Zed and Chas always feel a little off to me.  The timing is never quite right, the tone and inflection don’t ever quite fit, and, to be honest, even the body language is awkward at moments.  They may very well be wonderful actors, but I’m not connecting with their takes on Chas and Zed.

I would personally like to see Constantine take on greater scope.  “The Rising Darkness” is so generic and plot driven – I can’t really take it seriously.  I would really like to see Constantine dive into the dark side of the DC Universe.  I don’t know if NBC has rights to characters like Zatanna, Dr. Fate, Swamp Thing, Dr. Occult, The Demon, Tim Hunter, Dr. 13, and Deadman, but their inclusion would truly heighten interest in the show and juxtapose Constantine more powerfully than the sporadic evils he faces weekly.  The best we’ve gotten is Felix Faust, which speaks volumes.

I will keep watching Constantine.  I want it to succeed, I’m rooting for it to prevail and get a second season, yet, at the same moment, I must admit it’s not a show I feel comfortable recommending to friends.   I think the creators and actors are giving it their best effort, and I commend them for making something very watchable, but I don’t feel they’ve yet found an identity that amazes the audience with each episode.