Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Good Place Season 1.1 - 1.2 Review: 'Everything Is Fine' & 'Flying'

Eleanor Shellshrop (Kristen Bell) opens her eyes to discover that she is dead and has entered the afterlife, and is now in 'The Good Place'. Michael (Ted Denson), the first-time architect of this particular neighbourhood, explains that there are 'distinct neighbourhoods within the good place each containing exactly 322 who have been perfectly selected to blend together into a blissful harmonic balance.' At their first orientation session Michael explains that the reason they are all in the good place is because during their time on Earth every one of their actions had a positive or negative value - and only those with the highest score get into the good place. Eleanor is shown into her new home, a quaint and bright cottage of the Icelandic-primitive style that perfectly matches her essence and features many clown paintings, and is introduced to her soulmate, Chidi (William Jackson), who was an ethics professor when he was alive. But as Eleanor explains to Chidi in confidence, there's a major problem - the 'Eleanor' to which Michael thinks he is referring too (who spent her life as a lawyer getting innocent people of death row) is not her, just another woman with the same name. This Eleanor is a saleswoman that made a living by tricking old and sick people into buying fake medicine. Obviously, she becomes pretty concerned that when Michael finds out she'll be sent to 'the bad place'.

The pilot episode, also titled 'Everything is Fine' was very exposition heavy, as you can tell from above, as it tried to quickly accommodate Eleanor and the audience to 'the good place'. It was handled well, but such a large exposition dump leads to further questions. Just as Eleanor and Chidi tried to ask Janet (D'Arcy Carden, the neighbourhood's informational assistant) about 'the bad place' I had similar questions. Why do they need to eat and sleep as if they were still functioning humans? Wouldn't a lot of these people have found a soulmate while alive, and wouldn't it be weird for them to immediately start a new relationship with a new person in the afterlife? Who works at all those yoghurt shops, surely not other good deceased people? If Eleanor and Chidi are soulmates why do they live in separate houses while Tahani (Jameela Jamil) and Jianyu (Manny Jacinto), another pair of soulmates who are Eleanor's neighbours, live together? It was nitpicking, yes, but that's the sort of scrutiny a high-concept series invokes. Thankfully the series was able to start to balance itself a bit more in its second episode, 'Flying', after a bizarre ending to the first in which giant ladybugs and flying shrimp started to cause havoc in the neighbourhood.

Chidi realises that Eleanor's presence is the cause of the mayhem, but she asks him if he will help her learn to be good in order to prevent her from eternal damnation in the bad place. Chidi struggles with what to do for the episode as Eleanor tries to prove herself good by helping to clean up the neighbourhood, only for her to ditch her duties in order to go flying with the others for their Day 2 Orientation. Naturally Eleanor feels bad and eventually cleans up the entire neighbourhood when her bad deed resulted in a rubbish storm prompting Chidi to give her a chance.

The series could very much become too heavy-handed with its metaphors and lessons of the week, as well as it's orientation into the good place, but for me personally the most exciting part of The Good Place is its potential for future discussions of morals and ethical philosophy. Most sitcoms will aim for being funny over its characters being good (see the success of a series like It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia), so it's refreshing that at least for now The Good Place looks as if its primary focus will be Eleanor's attempts to learn to become a better person. So for now, I'm willing to forgive its predictability. And who knows, maybe there's a lesson or two the series could teach the audience in the process.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favourite quote/ scene of the episode: When Tahani, after seeing how her silent soulmate Jianyu has helped Michael says, 'Maybe I should be silent too.' She's silent for two seconds before saying, 'Oh, that was wonderful! So cleansing!'

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Unreal 2.8 Review: Fugitive

The end of last week's episode posed the question as to what Rachel and Quinn would do without one another, but wasn't really a question that Fugitive was all too concerned about deleting into. Rachel's stay at the psychiatric facility was simultaneously surprising at and not so. I would have thought the series would have wanted to play up this situation, but at the same time a prolonged stay there would have seemed out of focus for the series so understandably Rachel was quickly brought back onto the set of Everlasting. Coleman confronts Quinn about letting Rachel's mother take her to the facility but Quinn reminds him that Rachel called her - so things must be really bad and perhaps she needs some time off. Coleman insists that he is in love with her and goes to get her, but not before he catches Yael in his office looking up the footage of Romeo's shooting and she reveals that *GASP* she's actually an undercover reporter writing a book called 'Reality TV Kills' and wants Coleman to help her get the dirt about what really goes on behind the scenes at Everlasting. I like the idea that we don't really know Coleman's intentions with Rachel even after he gets her out of the psychiatric facility, does he really love her, or is he in it for himself and to get revenge on the series? I think his character is still conflicted about this, which makes for good viewing. Adding the Yael reveal is just too much though, and it is an unnecessarily soapy trope for Unreal to go down when when know it's capable of so much more.

Another somewhat soapy reveal was the true nature of Rachel and her mother's dysfunctional relationship - she was raped at their home by one of her mother's patients when she was  12. I do like they are are trying to explore what makes Rachel such a fascinating character but I'm not sure that I like the simplification that all her problems stem from the fact that she had been raped as a girl. Having been easily coerced (thanks to the drugs she was on from the hospital) by Coleman to record all the unethical things she knows that Everlasting has done over the years I guess Rachel felt compelled to tell him about that too. It was probably the wrong decision, her mother seems to have always told her that no one wants to deal with damage like that (although she was likely just protecting herself and her practice), and she's partially right. An already torn Coleman is going to have a lot more to think about. He lays awake staring at Rachel before meeting with Yael, seemingly willing to help her in exposing Everlasting and theoretically also ruining Rachel in the process.

The other parts of the Fugitive focused on the making Everlasting and as usual that weren't nearly as entertaining as the character insight into Rachel and Coleman. Darius was still missing after the shooting so the producers had to keep coming up with Survivor-esque challenges in which the ladies had to know all the answers to questions about Darius to avoid elimination, and then vote each other off. Jay eventually finds Darius thanks to eliminated contestant Ruby who lets him know when Darius contacts her and asks to meet. He tells her that he wants to quit the show and be with her and now that he's had his back surgery he can't play football and can focus on being abetter person. But she's not interested after being dumped on live-television, believing he practically told the world that she's too demanding. Jay tries to comfort an agitated Darius and tells him that without his football career his best chance to get anywhere with his life is to finish off Everlasting and marry the entitled Tiffany to set himself up. Back on set the other girls have turned against Tiffany though, and despite Quinn, Chet, and Jay's attempts to manipulate the situation they decide to vote her off. Until Darius appears at the last second and votes off Jameson. It sort of annoys me that after all the set-up they did with this boring producing of an episode of Everlasting that Darius can just come in and get whatever he wants. I'm sure that it wouldn't actually work since everything they filmed prior lead to a different conclusion, but anyway. Darius makes it clear he doesn't want Rachel anywhere near him and that he only talks to Jay and from now on he does the series his way. Quinn seems to think that it will makes things interesting, but I can't imagine anything more boring if he's already chosen Tiffany with two weeks left (although of course we all know her make-out session with Chet is going to come back to haunt her, so there's that at least).

Quinn also spent the episode fielding questions about having children from John Booth and while I'm not particularly adverse to Quinn having a love interest that's not Chet, I always hate how series' think it's okay to have an older couple talk about children so soon in their relationship because they are old and their biological clock is ticking. They've still only been dating for a couple of weeks, writers! Baby talk is too soon. Apparently not for Quinn though who agrees to keep dating John because she doesn't completely hate the idea of starting a family with him. Perhaps this is because of Rachel? It was made clear to her that Rachel is not her family in this episode, so whiteout her she doesn't have one at the moment. Perhaps another bad decision that will come back to haunt her.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Preacher 1.9 Review: Finish The Song

Emily is called to Tulip's house where Tulip explains Cassidy's true nature to her - that he's a vampire - so that she can continue to feed him small animals until be gets better after being left to burn by Jesse outside the front of the church. Tulip, having waited long Jesse and seeing what he did to Cassidy, has finally decided to travel to Albuquerque to kill the man she has wanted revenge on for so long. After feeding him a hamster she calls Miles, who she now considers her boyfriend and lures him into Cassidy's room before shutting the door. Saying it like that makes it come across as a drastic decision on Emily's part, but the series did so well into building up to this all season with their relationship. So when Emily starts to talk about Mile's to Tulip at the beginning of the episode you know that Emily feels like she has gotten herself in too deep with Miles (and possibly even Jesse as well) and with the knowledge that Cassidy is a vampire decides to do something that'll at least give her some sense of control in her life that is becoming increasingly crazy.

Having escaped from the back of Sheriff Hugo's police car, Jesse was on the run and still planning to bring God to church the following Sunday to prove to Quinncanon and the rest of the town of his existence. After stealing Fiore and DeBlanc's direct phone to heaven he shows up at Tulip and Emily quickly leaves telling him that she has to pick up her kids without a word about Miles. Inside he finds a better-healed Cassidy and he apologises for letting him burn for so long, the pair then get started on deposing of Miles' body (and collecting a hand of God to use the telephone). Jesse also calls Tulip and leaves a voicemail apoligising to her, although it's potentially too late, with her having arrived at Albuquerque and looking ready to kill her man.

After failing to retrieve Genesis from Jesse, Fiore and DeBlanc organise plans to go to hell via a travel agent - unable to return to heaven for fear of God's wrath (and because, thanks to Jesse, they have no phone to contact him). They take a shuttle to hell and find 'The Cowboy', who after all this time watching his seemingly unrelated journey we realise has been eternally repeating his own personal hell in Ratwater. He shoots DeBlanc and asks Fiore what job they have for him and Fiore tells The Cowboy that they want him to kill a Preacher.

Rating 3.5/5

Sunday, 24 July 2016

BoJack Horseman 3.3 Review: BoJack Kills

Still on his Oscar campaign BoJack is endlessly making appearances at the plays of Oscar voters' children, barmtitzvah's, and old-folks homes all to ensure that he gets good buzz. This is made a little more difficult when his old friend Jill Pill rings and reminds him that she asked him to check on her ex-lover Cuddlywhiskers, which BoJack had forgotten to do. She asked him to go to his house and get a private letter she sent to Cuddlywhiskers some years ago and wants back. BoJack and a begrudging Diane (she's trying to keep her relationship with him purely professional) go to his house only to find a dead whale in the pool before Officer Meow Meow Fuzzyface shows up with two other police officers and take them back to the police station. After Diane sneakily looks up their rights on her phone and tells Meow Meow Fuzzyface that he can't hold them at the station without arresting them her and BoJack leave. Diane reveals that she has Nadia's (the dead whale's) phone and that her last text was 'BoJack is going to kill me'. The pair think that BoJack is being framed for Nadia's murder and when another friend of her's leaves a voicemail they trace it back to Whale World, an erotic dancing venue for the whole family. The establishment is run by Goober, who once was a child-actor on BoJack's show Horsin' Around. BoJack and Diane come back later that night after getting a tip from Nadia's whale friend Skinny Gina. When they return they discover that the 'BoJack' to which Nadia was referring to in her text is actually a brand of heroin that Goober in peddling through the club. After he's arrested Bojack and Diane go back to Cuddlywhiskers house to retrieve Jill's letter when he reveals that after the cancellation of The BoJack Horseman Show Cuddlywhiskers retreated to hi Ojai property. They find him there and he reveals he turned his LA property into a halfway house for drug addicts - explaining Nadia's death.

While Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter's relationship troubles (Princess Carolyn spent the entire episode trying to clean out the skunk smell out of their house for Diane's benefit), as well of the brief discussions of happiness and how to achieve it, provide some pathos that we're used to from BoJack Horseman, tonally this was an odd episode. The series is no stranger to being dark, but having an episode revolve around a dead whale and someone assumedly framing Bojack for her murder, even if in the even it turned out to only be a heroin overdose definitely took away from the series usual sense of eccentric Hollywood-centred wackiness.

Rating: 2.5/5

BoJack Horseman 3.2 Review: The BoJack Horseman Show

In 2007 Princess Carolyn has just slept with BoJack for the first time. She's still an agent's assistant to Marv Sbarbori, the man that represents BoJack, and she's trying desperately to book him an acting job - although he's adamant he's still trying to recuperate after his time on Horsin' Around. She convinces BoJack to talk to veteran sitcom writer named Cuddlywhiskers about a part on a new show after she reads his script, Mitch's Life, at work. BoJack thinks the show sounds incredible but doesn't want to do it because he's afraid that he is not, to which she replies by telling him that he's an idiot if he doesn't realise how talented he is. BoJack agrees to do it, but of course starts to self-sabotage himself immediately. The network executives love the table read, but BoJack convinces Cuddlywhiskers that if they liked the script that they're playing it too and they they need to re-write it - with ideas like opening with BoJack's character literally taking a massive dump on a VHS tape of Horsin' Around and his character's catch-phrase being 'Wassup bitches!'. He realises too late, thanks to Princess Carolyn (who Marv has finally appointed as an agent), that people liked the horse from Horsin' Around and he doesn't need to be afraid of doing something to step out of its shadow, but shouldn't be too scared to try, either.

The episode also showed what the lives of the other characters were like in 2007. Diane worked at Starbucks under the name 'Blarn' - ironically as a joke - and was getting her open letter to open letters rejected by The New Yorker. Mr. Peanutbutter was as easily distracted as ever going from being a spokesperson for Seaborn's Seahorse Milk to hosting a John Edwards fundraiser, all the while being married to his second wife, Jessica Biel. And Todd was getting intimate with a girl for the first time, and unwittingly ruining the end of The Sopranos. While Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter meeting for the first time was a big moment, these subplots of the episode were mainly used to hilariously highlight the fact that they were in 2007. I could easily see people getting bored of the repetitive joke - but I loved it. According to phone calls Marv was having, 'she kissed a girl and she liked it? This I got to see' and 'There's a panic? At the disco?'. There was flipphones and MySpace mentions. The movie Bearspray and television series Eel or No Eel were big at the time. You could eat at David Hasselhoff's Floor Burgers. It was all glorious, but was ultimately the backdrop in an episode trying to highlight something more.

Start Spreading The News highlighted BoJack's discontent with having finally made his dream come true in The Secretariat and not knowing what to do afterwards, and The BoJack Horseman Show was a timely reminder of just how far his character has come since the beginning of the series. It showed him ruining a perfect chance to revive his career in comparison to were he is in current time -having revived his career by making his dream film. But a lot of that has to do with Princess Carolyn, who told Bojack at the end of the episode that she didn't want to spend the next seven years falling in and out of love with him. As we've seen though, this is exactly what has happened, and while BoJack keeps getting everything he wanted and being unimpressed by it Princess Carolyn is still struggling to make it as an agent. Here's hoping when we return to the return timeline on the series that things will start to progress for this character that has always been behind and helped our antihero.

Rating: 3.5/5

BoJack Horseman 3.1 Review: Start Spreading The News

The season starts off with BoJack doing a press tour for The Secretariat in New York and as with most things in life BoJack tells reporters constantly that 'it's a dream come true', but it's also a nightmare having to repeatedly answer the same questions and be teased about his previous work like Horsin' Around. The press are also constantly asking him, 'what's next for BoJack?'. He wants an Oscar for his role, sure, but after that who knows? BoJack reveals to his publicist Anna at the end of the episode (after having accidentally revealed to a Matinee Fair that his performance in The Secretariat is a digital construct), that he was almost relieved that the farce of having to act at a certain way and say certain things for so long just for one night of happiness to get an Oscar wasn't worth it. She seems to think is it, however, telling him that this has been his dream and that he's worked so hard already that he deserves that one night and that together they'll get it for him. Knowing BoJack Horseman, I very much doubt he'll actually win an Oscar for his role, because that's life.

Back in LA, J.D. Salinger announces that he no longer wants to keep making 'Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: Do They Know Things? What Do They Know? Let's Find Out' stating, 'I told the story I wanted to tell. To prolong it for commercial reasons would be crass and inorganic'. This puts Mr. Peanutbutter out of a job, and Princess Caroline decides to focus all her agency's attention on the small amount of clients it has rather than trying to attract big name celebrities like J.D. Salinger again. This prompts Mr. Peanutbutter to put P.B. Livin back in business and his accountant unwillingly gives him one of his worst ideas to date while impersonating Todd (who had been accidentally packed into BoJack's luggage and was in New York) - 'A Spaghetti Strainer That's Also A Hat: The TV Show.' Naturally Mr. Peanutbutter tells him that he wants to put all his money into the series. I personally could see it running as long as Horsin' Around.

Rating 3/5

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Difficult People 2.3 Review: Italian Piñata

On their way to attend the launch of Kevin Smith Jorts Emporium in Hoboken, Julie and Billy decide to kill time in an Italian restaurant. Much to Julie's surprise there is a group of women there that laugh out loud at her meat jokes and just seem to get her, after she was earlier wondering why women her age didn't like her as her and her mother Marilyn got free (and disastrous) student hair cuts. They mistake her for being Italian, thanks to the aforementioned 'little orphan Weird Al Yankovich' perm, and invite her and Billy out to a gay bar for Coming Out Day. To take advantage of the drinks special, naturally Billy pretends that he has just come out, which also attracts Joey, the brother of one of Julie's new friends.

Elsewhere, Arthur was tasked with organising PBS' staff birthday celebrations for the next month, but after accidentally spending the entire budget on one birthday Julie helps him by combining the birthday's of their neighbours son and Arthur's boss which results in the latter's clown phobia resurfacing. After the incident Marilyn shows up at his office after having a particularly stressful day as work as well (her stupid haircut was making it difficult to concentrate). Her client, who's daughter had joined a cult, made her fear for Julie's newfound identity conversion to Italian and together the pair set about going to get Julie back form Hoboken.

They needn't have worried though, as a seasoned watcher of Difficult People would expect, both Julie and Billy kept up their charade of being Italian and recently out, respectively, until they were caught out at the end of the episode, by characterising a Frank Sintara song as more of a 'Liza Minnelli song'.
The pair mourned the loss of New Jersey as they left to catch the train back to New York. Julie had finally felt accepted for who she was amongst the Italian women, earlier telling Billy, 'Everything that made me unacceptable as a New York Jew is celebrated as a New Jersey Italian'. Meanwhile, Billy had a difficult time playing a recently out straight guy in an attempt to get into Joey pants - who seemed to be aroused by the idea. Particularly hard when Joey offered to give him a crash-course in being gay. 'Lying about who we are made us accept who we really are - after we changed it', he responded to Julie, pretty much a classic line to some-up the pair as characters. Deep down, they will never change. They are who they are and they love themselves for it, but that doesn't mean that they'll   ever stop trying to validate themselves by trying to get other people to like them.

Rating: 3/5