You Should Enroll In The Umbrella Academy

If you’re looking for a new show to binge, I highly recommend Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy.  I just finished it last night and it’s one of the only series that I’ve ever watched that made me think to myself, “I can’t wait to watch this whole thing again.”

There’s something absolutely delightful about this show that makes it a blast to experience.  I’ll share with you just a few of the things that I appreciated most.

If you’re unfamiliar with The Umbrella Academy, I describe it as The X-Men meets Stranger Things.  An aristocratic stick-in-the-mud named Sir Reginald Hargreeves takes it upon himself to collect seven babies born under mysterious circumstances throughout the world.  He trains them from birth to fight evil and deter an impending apocalypse.  He counts on his android nanny and sentient, well-dressed primate to assist him.  His Umbrella Academy is cold, rigid, and unforgiving.

The show begins with the adult members of the Umbrella Academy returning home due to Hargreeves’ death.  It’s the first time they’ve been together in years.  It becomes very apparent, very quickly, that all of these former child super heroes are damaged goods.

However, this isn’t the melodrama of The X-Men.  This show is actually fun.  In fact, while it’s never laugh-out-loud hilarious, it is consistently amusing to the point you are on the verge of laughing.  The light touch even among serious happenings is why I compare it to Stranger Things.

Consequently, and perhaps surprisingly, The Umbrella Academy is just as much about its characters as it is about the unavoidable apocalypse.  Every single member of the Academy is given a backstory and a concrete personality that is easy to love.  The show randomly slips in and out of characters’ pasts, which makes it unpredictable and captivating.  Furthermore, every aside, every detour, contributes to the overall story line.  This is a tight plot with well-developed characters.

I adore the fact that they took the execution of this show so seriously because they easily could have shortchanged the plot and allowed the visuals to take center stage.  Because, wow, this show looks amazing.  The production quality is out of this world.  I felt like I’d actually entered another world.  For example, Pogo, the gentleman primate, seems to be just as solid as the actual human beings in the scenes with him.  Astounding.  The special effects are Netflix-money good.

Speaking of production quality, some Netflix shows have had a bit of trouble with pacing.  I’m specifically talking about the Marvel programs and even the recent seasons of Orange Is the New Black.  Granted, we’re only in The Umbrella Academy’s first season, but the pace never let up.  This show knows it’s competing with your cell phone, and it dares you to look away.

Even amidst the crazy action, the huge explosions, the wonky time travel, and the intense fight scenes, I liked this show best because I loved the characters.  In their own unique way, each and every one of them is charming with a great deal of charisma.  I challenge you to pick one overall favorite.  For me, it changed from episode to episode.

So what are you waiting for?  Get enrolled in The Umbrella Academy tonight!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s Dr. Nekros e-book series HERE)

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A Few Thoughts Concerning Outlander: Season 4

I’ve had an interesting ride with Outlander on Starz.  When it debuted in 2014, my wife and I thought it would be a good show to watch together.  Neither of us knew exactly what it entailed, just that it was a popular book series and that a lot of people were looking forward to it.

Though it ended up being more intense than either of us expected, we loved the story, the acting, the costumes, the settings, and the charisma between Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser, the two main characters played by Caitriona Balfe and Same Heughan.  Again, the violence surprised us, as did the very graphic adult content, but overall we were won over.

The second season did not impress us as much as the first.  Claire’s penchant for being in the wrong place at the wrong time began to wear thin with me, as did Jamie’s constant frowning.  However, the time travel element got more and more complex, as did the historical aspect of the show in regards to Scotland and it’s struggles with England.

That being said, I can’t lie–I quit the third season after a few episodes.  The coincidences became too outlandish, the situations too forced, and the dynamic between Claire and Jamie a little too stale.  It seemed like the same things kept happening over and over, just in different settings.

However, the premise of the fourth season fascinated me, so I came back.  Claire and Jamie are now living in the New World.  Jamie has built a cabin in the wilds of North Carolina and has been given a vast amount of land.  He and Claire, along with his nephew Ian, must learn to coexist with the Cherokee as they also navigate the growing political unrest within the colonies.

A much-needed complication arises with Brianna, their adult-daughter, and Roger, Brianna’s on-again-off-again love interest.  We last saw them quite a bit in the second season.  At the risk of spoiling the latter half of this latest season, Brianna and Roger make their way from the 1960s to the late 18th century.  Why do they visit Colonial America?  I won’t give that away, but Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin bring a refreshing energy to the show.  Though we’ve seen them before, we’ve never encountered them facing real danger.  Brianna and Roger are both thrown right into the frying pan after traveling to Claire and Jamie’s era.  Though Brianna and Roger’s relationship can be infuriating, seeing them interact with Claire and Jamie brings a new vitality to the show.  It’s also captivating to see Jamie playing a father to the daughter he never thought he would meet.

This fourth season isn’t perfect.  For example, Claire’s habit of finding skulls is … weird.  Jamie still seems to only have three or four facial expressions.  Roger is flat-out unlikable through much of the season.  Brianna takes unnecessary risk after unnecessary risk, effectively replacing Claire in that regard.  And there are once again some far-fetched coincidences, inexplicable actions taken by characters, and bizarre plot points.

But, overall, I really enjoyed the season.  Jamie and Claire’s characters are growing, the change in scenery is fun, Brianna and Roger are interesting, and the stories involving both the colonial politicians as well as the Native Americans are gripping.  The sets, though subtle, are stunning, and the costumes are–as always–fantastic.

Be warned, though.  This season can get very explicit in regards to adult content.  There isn’t anywhere near as much nudity as the first season, but there are several disturbing moments of sexual violence.  It’s very upsetting–as it should be.

I’m glad I came back to the show.  If you moved away from it like me, I recommend giving the fourth season a try.  I think Outlander will recapture your attention.

Outlander Season 4 2018

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

This Season Of The Handmaid’s Tale Will Be My Last

We’re not Hulu subscribers, so when everyone heaped praise upon The Handmaid’s Tale, we had to wait until it came out on disc to experience it for ourselves.

We were able to finally watch it a few months ago, and we can attest that it deserved all of the acclimation it received.  Sure, it was intense, disturbing, and fraught with modern day political implications, but the sheer skill in terms of writing, acting, and production could not be denied.

In fact, the series impressed me so much that I immediately found the book and read it as well.  To my surprise, the first season of the show followed the book very closely.  The only aspect of the book the series did not cover pertained to the final ten or fifteen pages.

I presumed the second season would tackle those last pages of the novel.

I could not have been more wrong … so far.

The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale blazes its own trail by adding original material to the classic Margaret Atwood novel.  It’s serving as something of a sequel to the book as it continues Offred’s plight, the Waterford’s tyranny, and the general awfulness of a place like Gilead.

However, they’ve managed to up the stakes this season.  It’s become even more tense, more unsettling, and more … well, horrific.

Honestly, my wife and I watched episode eleven (of thirteen) last night, and we both decided that this season will be our last.  Yes, we’ll finish it out, but we agreed that neither of us wants to infiltrate Gilead’s boundaries anymore.

Minor spoilers here–with Offred’s complicated pregnancy and a heart-wrenching story line revolving around her first daughter, as well as an extremely frightening scene depicting rape … it’s too much.  This dystopian society of Gilead has become too real.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to retreat from a show.  Back in 2014, The Walking Dead began killing children every week and threatening to kill an infant, so I had to quit it, too.  Our real world is scary enough.  We see enough tragedy on a daily basis in our reality.  I can’t deal with this level of calamity on a show, too.

In the end, when I watch a show, see a movie, or read a book, I’m engaging in a certain amount of escapism.  I cannot, for a sustained amount of time, feel extremely depressed after watching a show.  Every once in a while is manageable, but every episode of an entire season?  Maybe it’s not as potent if watching it on a weekly basis, but we’re watching an episode a night, and it’s absolutely altering my overall mood.

The Handmaid’s Tale crossed a line in my mind.  I understand children are the driving force of the entire premise, but by bringing them front and center, and by teasing their exploitation and abuse on a regular basis, in addition to the constant barrage of violence against powerless women … Again, it’s too much.

This second season is too blunt, too graphic, and too ruthless.  I found the first season, though very troubling, a little more nuanced, poignant, and purposeful.

I think the show and the book both serve as a significant warning against people manipulating religious and political beliefs for their own personal glorification, and I believe The Handmaid’s Tale inspires us to hold firm onto our own morals even in the face of rampant corruption, but I simply can’t partake in such abasement as a means of escapism any longer.

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

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!)

Ruby Rose Is Batwoman In All Her Glory

Perhaps you heard the news several months ago that Ruby Rose had been cast to play Batwoman in a crossover event on the CW.  She will appear on The Flash, Arrow, and Supergirl as the three shows dive into a combined story line that introduces us to a Gotham City presumably without a Batman.

Believe it or not, Batwoman has been around since 1956, but this current iteration debuted in 2006 and has been wildly popular from that moment on.  She’s regularly carried her own title off and on during the last eight years!

Today, the CW released an official look at Ruby Rose in the Batwoman costume, and it is exceptional.  Generally speaking, the CW costumes are breathtaking, but this one in particular is already by far my favorite.  That’s probably because it’s also the most accurate to the comic book depiction.  They even got the red wig just right!  (Yes, it’s a wig in the comics, too.)

I love that they really seem to be honoring the character.  In the source material, Batwoman is a former member of the armed forces who received a dishonorable discharge due to her homosexuality.  Feeling purposeless, while wandering Gotham City, Batman inadvertently inspired her to take control of her life by becoming Batwoman.

Interestingly enough, judging from the photograph, Batwoman may be Gotham City’s only bat-themed vigilante.  The bat-signal mimics her emblem, not Batman’s.  The CW has been hesitant to use Batman in any capacity, though they did go ahead and include Superman during a few episodes of Supergirl.  If they want to put all of their chips on Batwoman, that’s fine with me!  She’s a rich character full of story potential.

Of course, to be totally honest with you, I’ve quit watching all of the CW/DC Comics shows.  I loved them all in the beginning, especially The Flash.  Unfortunately, because it’s the CW, they got a bit too melodramatic for my taste.  When Arrow devolved into Felicity crying every episode with Oliver endlessly proclaiming everything is his fault, it got to be too much for me.  The Flash fell victim to similar tropes.

I will definitely come back for Batwoman, though.  The costume alone has piqued my curiosity in this crossover event.  I wish Ruby Rose and the CW the best of luck!

If you’d like to learn more about Batwoman, click HERE.

To learn more about Ruby Rose and the controversy surrounding her casting as Batwoman, click HERE.

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

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!)