What I’ve watched: Penny Dreadful S1

celebrity-tv-1258280Penny Dreadful season 1 on Showtime via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

Take all your favorite movie monsters (Frankenstein’s Creature, Dracula, Wolf-Man, Dorian Gray) and put them into one TV show. Taking place in early 20th century London, an American sharpshooter is hired to help a British explorer and his creepy daughter-like companion in search of his missing daughter. Add Dr. Victor Frankenstein and some crazy shit happens: vampire hordes, Jack the Ripper style killings, Consumption sex scenes, and a Gothic possession.

What works:

Timothy Dalton. I mean come on, he is James Bond. Dude is a certified BAMF. And his character is awesome in this show. His suave calmness and lack of empathy is great. He is not your average hero.

Eva Green & Josh Harnett. I’ll admit, I don’t like either of them all that much elsewhere, but they are really freaking good in this show. Ms. Green as Ms. Ives going full possessed psycho was a thrill to watch. She had a way to fully confuse the viewer if she was herself or possessed, one just never knew. And then Mr. American Harnett was really good too. I liked his character arc and his final secret was done really well (though I knew it was a matter of time before they announced it!)

The eerie time period was a character unto itself. Who doesn’t love Gothic/Victorian style London? If you don’t we can’t be friends. The world felt so life-like that it amazed me. I’m also glad the producers didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. It was a brutal time and this show didn’t hold back.

The best episode by far was the flashback episode of TD and EG characters meeting. It was awesome that EG was writing to TD daughter aka Mina Harker. It evoked the true art that was Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was written in letter format. I loved loved loved that episode.

Also of note was all the nods to the authors themselves. Like above and then many nods to Mary Shelley. Great!

What didn’t work:

Dorian Gray flat out was a let down. And that is down to the actor. I couldn’t stand the guy with all his stupid finger rings and weird emo-like hairstyle. I love the story of Dorian Gray and was interested when the introduced him. But that didn’t work for me.

The finding of Mina Harker (Timothy Dalton’s daughter). There was this whole build-up to finding her and then the finale episode was just a let down. I felt like they should have had 2 more episodes to build up to it. It just sort of fell flat.

Dr. Frankenstein’s constant cryface. Dude seriously had tears in his eyes almost every single scene he was in (when he wasn’t doing morphine). It really detracted from the storyline.

Rating:

3.5 out of 5

So many good things going for it only to be brought down by subpar characters and the finale. I will continue watching because they set up a really good cliffhanger, but I just hope there is more to it.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S4

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Season 4 of The 100 on the CW via Netflix. Latest and most recent season.

Brief Summary:

Picking up immediately after ALLIE was destroyed, Clarke and her friends learn that a second nuclear wave is coming in 6 months. So the scope of the show finally slows in the world-building and reverts back into a smaller scope – how to survive the upcoming fire wave. With no Commander, Roan becomes king of the Grounder clans and with Clarke’s help, they begin to search for a way to save their people (once again). Raven deals with after effects of the AI chip, Jaha wants to redeem himself, Jasper accepts his fate, Bellamy hates himself, and Octavia tries to retreat to a less violent way. In the end, 1300 people can be saved in an underground bunker, some return to space, and Clarke is left on her own.

What Works:

The return to the smaller scope. I loved season 3’s expansion into Grounder lore, but I thought this season was great from the aspect that there was only one true foe, one that wasn’t a human. It gave the characters a common enemy to defeat.

With that said, the whole Grounder conclave was AMAZING. That was probably one of the greatest episodes of TV in some time. Violent, tense, gripping, jaw-dropping. Perfection. Sure the outcome was a bit predictable, but how it happened, didn’t see that coming at all.

Though I was so happy to finally see Jasper go, this season I softened on him from the last one. His death is coming, we should enjoy it attitude was brilliant. I liked how it came over other characters too. And his final goodbye to Monty was fitting.

Super Raven and the return to the Ark. Now that was an awesome thread. Pitting her against ALLIE and Sinclair as her Devil and Angel was pure awesomeness. And throw in her ever perfect love/hate relationship with Murphy, I couldn’t get enough of those scenes. Plus the full circle of characters back in space.

Which leads to the 6 year time jump! Wow, what balls by this show. In the grand scheme of things, the first 4 seasons took place within a 6 month time frame, so to skip 6 years was gutsy. But it sets up the next season by creating factions/groups. I loved it. I can’t wait to see how Octavia did with all the Grounders/Ark people in the bunker. How the 7 back in the Ark. And who the F*ck was in that spaceship???

One thing this season did a great job with was giving nearly all the main characters some sort of redemption thread. Clarke with her stopping ALLIE & starting the reaction saved her friends and then we see her with a child 6 yrs later, Bellamy and Echo, Murphy and Raven, Monty and Jasper, Abby and Kane, Jaha and everyone. All of this against the backdrop of certain doom.

What Doesn’t Work:

While I loved the idea of the second bunker, it almost felt too easy to me. Also, why couldn’t people stay at the bunker where ALLIE’s lab was???

Only other complaint was that the finale episode only focused on Clarke’s group, very little in terms of the bunker. I wanted to see what happened with Kane and the others a bit more.

Rating:

5 out of 5

This season was just exquiste, there is nothing about this season that could be seen as anything other than awesome. The 100 really took strides forward and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S3

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Season 3 of The 100 from the CW via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

With the destruction of Mount Weather’s people, the Grounders are allies with the people of the Ark. Clarke is missing, left on her own accord due to her struggle with her decisions. Jasper is a drunk, Bellamy is a leader in his own right, Raven is dealing with her injury, Octavia becoming more a Grounder each day and Monty is being Monty. The peace is hinging on Clarke being found. She is taken to the Grounder leader, Lexa, and forms the peace treaty (while falling in love with Lexa). Also, more Ark survivors are found, causing friction in the camp. Finally an AI plot. Lots going on.

What Works:

Though incredibly frustrating, the introduction of Pike is great for the story as a whole. His whole us vs them ideals are truly indicative of what the world has become. I dig it.

Clarke becomes better in this season, but only because of her plot with Lexa. Clarke, though a great main character, needed something like the Lexa storyline to give her that added oomph. She was fading in season 2 for me and this season she grew on me.

Kane continues to be such a badass character. He wants nothing but peace and will go to any length to get it, a total far-cry from season 1. His character is inspiring.

The AI plot was great. I loved how the City of Light would erase problems, but there were also limits. I thought it was great that the chip had to be taken voluntarily, but then the AI was willing to bend the rules to chip everyone. It was very tense when you didn’t know who was chipped or not.

The continued growth of this world is great. With the expansion of the Grounder faction, the mythos is larger and a deeper well to draw from. I loved the back-stabbing from the Grounder clans, especially the Ice Nation. And that battle with Lexa and Roan, damn. If you couldn’t tell I love Lexa.

Which leads me into this next point. Lexa’s death. I know this is spoilery, but it has to be said. With Lexa and Clarke’s love arc, it was the first true LGBTQ main character on a TV show. Lexa built up Clarke and vice-versa. Lexa was such a great character that her death sparked outrage (mainly due to how she was killed – a stray bullet and the classic “kill all your gays trope”). I get the backlash, her death should have been handled better, but her death was necessary for the character growth in Clarke. I found in incredibly important for the sake of the story for Lexa to die. It really drove home the hero storyline for Clarke – every hero needs a tragedy to overcome. This was that, but I wish it could have lasted longer…

What Doesn’t Work:

…Lexa’s death part two. Her death signaled the shift in plots of this season. The first half was all about Pike & Kane’s differing views on joining the Grounders. There was so much tension and story that could have been mined here. But instead, the show focused on the AI plot for the second half. While that plot worked also, I think the show would have been better served making this two separate season arcs. There was so much that could have been added to strengthen both…

Jaha again. God I hated him, but that was because of how frustrating he was. Though I loved the AI plot, Jaha was so boring and dull for me. I think it would have been stronger if this was another character (see my post about S2).

Bellamy’s decisions. For me, I don’t think Bellamy would have joined with Pike so easily. Yes, Bellamy has his flaws, but this blind devotion seemed forced for me.

Oh my God if I hear another “my people” quote on this show, I’m going to scream! The theme of this season was doing what was right for their people, but good gravy it was beaten in with a hammer. Like every single sentence. DOING THIS FOR MY PEOPLE….ugh. Though it does make for a good drinking game.

The small break with Mount Weather & Jasper. I combine them because they were both useless and unnecessary. Jasper should have killed himself in season 2 (as he was supposed to, but the writers changed their minds last minute) and Emerson coming back didn’t work.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

Season 3 was by far its best and most ambitious, but I can’t give a perfect score due to the fact it should have been two separate seasons. Both plots were awesome, but smashing them together was not the right choice, but who am I to say what is good TV.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S2

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Season 2 of The 100 on the CW via Netflix.

Brief Summary:

Picking up immediately after that cliffhanger ending of S1, S2 is all about the people of the Ark adjusting to the ground, and the 100 (those still alive…) stuck under Mount Weather. The mythos of this show is expanded exponentially in this season. Hundreds of people survived the apocalypse under the mountain and they use the blood of the Grounders to heal them using blood transfusions. Though it starts innocently enough, the people under the mountain want to use the blood of the 100. In S1, we are barely told much about the Grounders, but in this season, we learn so much more backstory. Clarke is torn by her decision in the S1 finale and doesn’t know what to do. The people on the Ark must come to learn their new surroundings. And Bellamy (who totally redeemed himself halfway through last season!) must be a secret agent in Mount Weather to save his people.

What Works:

The tension in this show is off the charts. Between the cruel torture of the 100 halfway through the season to Bellamy’s mission, to Clarke’s uneasy alliance with the Grounders, to the back and forth between the adults of the Ark, this show never has a dull moment.

The Grounder introduction and the Mount Weather people really opened the world of this show. There are nuances to each faction and the show could have played it simple and signified who the actual villains are, but there are so many shades of grey, that it was interesting to see what would happen next.

For the sake of redundancy, the fact that this show is willing to kill off annoying characters is awesome, even when they are one of the main players. That character (who shall remain nameless, though its not hard to guess who…) had little purpose in this season that it was good he was killed off quite early (though two episodes too late in my opinion).

John Murphy. Enough said. This guy is awesome as a character. From bit part villain of S1 to major POV, he is so good to watch on screen. A survivor to the core.

The double-crossing is amazing in this show. So much plot thickeners, tension-building and out of left-fielders. I loved it.

What Doesn’t Work:

Jaha’s return. I loved how he sacrificed himself in S1 for the sake of the Ark, but his return (and role in S3) truly was not my bag. I found myself saying “F*cking Jaha” every time I saw him on screen. But then again, that is the mark of a good character I guess. I just wish they could have used someone else for the role he plays.

The YA return in Mount Weather for spurts. I loved the Mount Weather plot, but there were times it was so teenage high school film style that it didn’t fit with the theme of the show. And Jasper’s instant falling in love with that girl was too YA for me. (But I liked Jasper later in the season)

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

While there is so much more going on in this season than the first, it wasn’t as strong. But that is only by mere decimal points. Season 2 was very good and thought-provoking, asking the difficult questions survival would entail. It set up the series for much more in the following seasons.

What I’ve Watched: The 100 S1

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Season 1 of The 100 on CW via Netflix. This was a second viewing (in a month) in anticipation of the 4th season being released (and to get my wife to watch it so I would shut up with my raving about this show…)

Brief Summary:

After the remnants of mankind escape nuclear destruction by forming a giant ark in space (truly, this spaceship is called the Ark), new rules must be enforced to ensure the survival of the species. So whenever a crime is committed, the person is floated – unless they are under 18 years old. The story picks up as the Ark is running out of air. So 100 18yr-old criminals are sent to Earth to determine if the ground is survivable. There are two plot arcs in this season – one on Earth and one on the Ark. And these are two completely different story-types – Earth = YA, Ark = A. But the lines get blurry. Lots of trials and tribulations happen to both parties and the season ends with the 100 realizing they are not alone on Earth.

What Works:

Episode 3 onward. Let me explain. The first two episodes start out super Young Adult style. Bunch of teenagers loose on Earth with no parents, straight Lord of the Flies. There is the obligatory Imagine Dragons song, the young vixen who rebels strips to her boy-briefs while two sex-crazed boys goggle, the older rebel boy wants to be in charge, the main character starts to develop the feels for the cool kid. All of that happens and though the first episode ends on a WTF moment that you don’t see coming, the show doesn’t shed that YA stuff until episode three when a semi-main character gets his throat cut by an unsuspecting character. From then on, this show goes dark with its themes and that works so well.

The dichotomy of the 100 and the people on the Ark (the parents and adults) are great. The Ark scenes are straight Sci-Fi and are very heavy. With the Ark dying, people need to be culled from it for the sake of the species. Those are questions that you normally don’t see on YA shows and I love it. The 100 on the ground are completely different. They all go back to our baser instincts as humans – survival. But varying degrees of it. Some characters want to do “whatever the hell they want” while others want to ensure they survive. It is a style of story that truly brings the viewer in deep.

Without going into spoilers, the introduction of other humans on the ground (called Grounders…come on its YA!) is excellent story-building and tension. The vixen character from above, sheds that stereotype when this happens and she becomes one of my favorite characters, as well as it creates the sibling tension of the older rebel brother.

Raven & Kane are such great layered characters. Though she gets so much better in later seasons, I loved Raven from the get. She was the kickass female without having to play to the stereotypes you would expect from YA. And Kane, holy crap what a character. He starts out the villain, turns good, then villain again, then again. He goes from hated to loved to hated. I love it!

The level of blood is great here. Even though they don’t go crazy this season with the gore, the show doesn’t shy away from it (mentioned above). This is important because a show like this needs violence.

What Doesn’t Work:

Clarke and Finn. I know  I know. Clarke is the main character – smart, leader, asskicker – but I find myself leaning toward other characters much more than her. The first season she is a strong character, but as the show moves on, I find myself caring less about her and more about the story. This is just my thoughts though. And Finn, ughhhh. He is annoying, but I can see why the intended audience would like him.

Abby Griffin. Clarke’s mother is a frustrating character (and trust me, she doesn’t get better). I mean she was April frickin O’neil from Ninja Turles II Secret of the Ooze, but in this show she flip flops her beliefs way too much for me.

Rating:

5 out 5.

I absolutely love this show! I was hooked from the end of episode 1, but it took until episode 3 to truly make me a fanboy. And upon second viewing, I love it even more.

What I’ve watched: The Last Kingdom S1

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The Last Kingdom. A historical fantasy show on the BBC and Netflix. Based on the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwall, the first season is about the early days of England during the Saxon/Viking time.

Brief Summary:

The show starts off in standard fantasy form: invaders coming to a walled castle. Battle ensues, badass father dies, son sees it happen, son tries to fight back, invaders take son as a slave, son becomes part of invader’s family, becomes adult. Through that set-up in the first dang episode, we get to Uthred, son of a Saxon but trained/loved as a Dane. Things happen to Uthred’s Dane family and he goes on a mission with his childhood friend Brida to kill those who killed his Dane family, while also regaining his lands from his actual father’s murderer. Elsewhere, the last kindgom (hence the name!) of Wessex is at war with the Danes. Uthred helps the king win, but the king dies and his brother Alfred takes over as king. King Alfred tries to make peace with the Danes, but more bloodshed happens and Uthred must totter back-and-forth between Saxon and Dane. When Uthred is given a title and a wife, Brida leaves him calling him a Saxon. She leaves to find Young Ragnar – the Dane’s surviving son from earlier in the season. More bloodshed happens, some political things too. Eventually the bad guys are killed and peace is had…sort of. Brida and Young Ragnar are slaves and Uthred is out to find them.

What works:

Though the plot is somewhat cliche and seen over and over, I like it here in the historical setting. This world is real, I mean most of it really happened. Though Uthred is a fictional character, many of the other characters are based on real-life people. It is a simple fictional story of one man, but the true history is very complex and interesting.

The action and cinematography for a TV show is movie level quality. There is a fight scene where one dude gets his ankles cut and I visibly cringed and then had to text my father to start watching this show. The acting and the casting are spot on and I think that the producers did a wonderful job of getting the dialogue right.

How can one not love a character who calls the main character “Assling”??? It is hilarious and grounding at the same time. (For those who don’t know, atheling is a Middle English term for prince or hero)

Because of the smash hit of Game of Thrones, most TV fantasies are going to be compared to it. In those terms, I think The Last Kingdom stands its ground nicely. Characters die all the time, especially when you get attached to them. The political schemes are not as deep as GoT, but they are definitely complex and interesting.

I loved how they added the location names – both in Old English and Modern English. It was a nice touch.

What doesn’t work:

The first season takes two books and puts them together, so about halfway through the season, there is a time jump and additional things added to the show. While most of it works, like Uthred’s wife and title, the addition of the Phantom Queen is somewhat sledgehammered in there. While I liked the Phantom Queen and her plot arc, it was too quick of an addition for me.

Though the show was short in terms of episodes, I felt they jumped around too much in terms of Uthred always going someplace else. He traveled so much in this show. But it was a small irritant.

Rating:

4.5 out of 5

I love this show. Everything from the production values to the story. It clicked on so many levels for me: history, fantasy, war, Old England, Vikings, humor, dreariness. I loved it all.