Friday, September 9, 2016

Squawk Box: The Post-Frasier Grab Bag

After chewing through eleven season of Frasier, I was left without a direction, so of course, I went in about five different directions and launched into binges of five different shows, all at the same time. They're pretty wide-ranging, to be honest and somewhere better than others. So, without further ado: The Post-Frasier Grab Bag!

The Newsroom: There's an irritating thing that Aaron Sorkin does that you just have to sort of accept if you watch his television shows. They all have threads of commonality and similarities that run through them, from dialogue to character types, to whatever- there's supercuts of his Sorkinisms out there on the internet. That doesn't mean the writing's bad...  it's just ice cream. There are multiple flavors of ice cream out there in the world- they might taste different or look different but at the end of the day, it's still ice cream.

The first season of this show was rough stuff indeed. I hated the initial conceit of having the show set a couple of years before it aired- because it seemed to be a lazy excuse to sermonize on the part of Aaron Sorkin. The major news stories of the year- ranging from Gabby Giffords' assassination attempt to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon- we would get to see them covered by our heroes the way that they should have been covered. The West Wing has this rep in some (usually conservative) quarters of being scornfully dismissed as 'The Left Wing' which it isn't shy about- but it's sermonizing is rarely as grating as The Newsroom's is in the first season. Thankfully, they start to tell actual stories by season's end and the subsequent seasons start to head in intriguing directions before it all ends in Season 3. Individual performances work for me here more than the overall show, Sam Waterston as Charlie Skinner, Jeff Daniels as Will McAvoy and Olivia Munn as Sloane Sabbith about steal this show all by themselves. TL;DR: rough start, shows promises but dies an early death. If you're bored with your regular flavor of Sorkin, this one can be a nice change up.

Limitless: Did CBS fall and hit it's head? How the hell do you cancel a show this good? I assumed, given it's cancellation that it must have gone sideways somewhere in the back half of the season, but the few episodes I saw were great and as I made my way through season 1, my sense of bafflement only began to grow. How the hell do you cancel a show this good? Seriously. The cast is great (Jake McDorman, Blair Brown, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Ron Rifkin, Jennifer Carpenter amongst others) the writing is great. The show has depth: it can be meta, funny, dramatic- it's playful and self-deprecating almost.

I understand that the network television environment is rough these days, but there's no way this show didn't deserve at least another season. Hell, ship it to the CW with Supergirl if you want it off of CBS, but this show deserved at least one more season to prove itself and it's cancellation remains the most baffling decision of the last television season. There are whispers and rumors Netflix might be willing to swoop in and give it a second season, but I haven't seen anything firm on that yet.

The Last Kingdom: I liked this, but I feel like I could have liked it a lot more if it would have been just a touch more than eight episodes. The subject matter is awesome: King Alfred, the last king of free England, must fight for his Kingdom of Wessex against the Danish domination of the rest of England. Helping him is Utred Ragnarson, who was born a Saxon, kidnapped and raised by the Danes and doing his best to straddle both worlds to try and get his father's land in the north back and revenge for the murder of his adopted family. It all sounds so damn great, but after some investigation, I learned that they were trying to squeeze two of Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Stories (The Last Kingdom and The Pale Horseman) into just eight episodes and I don't know if they quite pulled it off. I think in the books, you probably have more in-depth exploration given to the relationships Utred has throughout the book, but in the television show, other than Brida, a fellow Saxon who escapes south with him after their Danish family is murdered, Utred seems to move from his new wife Mildrith to his pagan girlfriend/seeress Iseult very quickly indeed- so quickly, it seems almost jarring in many ways.

Netflix is taking over for Season 2, set to drop in 2017- and they've got ten episodes instead of 8 set to go. It'll be interesting to see how that works, but I have a feeling that the extra two episodes are going to make a lot of difference in how this show flows.

Stranger Things: This could have been any number of movies from the 1980s. There's a touch of ET, a touch of Goonies, a touch of Stand By Me- it's a nostalgia trip/period piece that could have easily been a kitschy trainwreck, but actually it's amazing. From the synth driven opening titles, to the music, to the fashion, the pop culture throwbacks to old school D&D, it's just a blast. And at eight episodes, it doesn't take up that much of your time. Love every minute of it and can't wait for Season 2 to drop.

Mr. Robot: Jesus, talk about a red pill vs blue pill kind of experience. It's the movie Hackers, all grown up in 2016 with a touch of The Matrix, Fight Club and a hefty dose of LSD all thrown in for good measure. Do you go down the rabbit hole with this show? Absolutely. But it's a savage critique of modern capitalism and blows every other modern portrayal of hackers/technology and that culture out of the water. Its one season in so far, but holy hell, where might it go in Season 2? Who knows. But I want to find out.

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