Squawk Box: Undone/The Mandalorian

Squawk Box returns for February with a two-fer: Undone from Amazon Prime and of course, The Mandalorian from Disney Plus.

Undone caught my eye mainly for the animation-- made using rotoscoping, it looks absolutely gorgeous so I wanted to check it out. What I found wasn't just beautiful animation, but a tightly focused eight episode first season which explores the nature of reality. When Alma (Rosa Salazar) gets into a car crash, she discovers that she can navigate through time using the power of her mind. Her father, Jacob (Bob Odenkirk) appears to here and offers to teach her how to harnass this power to investigate his murder, reset the timeline and hopefully bring him back to life. Alma agrees and the two of them begin a reality warping journey through the moments of Alma's life trying to piece together what happened to her father back then and uncover the meaning of some family history and some secrets along the way.

In the meantime, the other people in Alma's life- ranging from her boyfriend, Sam (Siddharth Dhananhay) to her boss at the daycare where she works, Tunde (Daveed Diggs) are increasingly concerned about her mental health. While to Alma, it appears that she is moving through time and bending reality to solve the mystery of her Dad's death, to everyone else it appears that she's not bending reality but losing her grip on it and slipping into mental illness: a history of schizophrenia runs in the family.  Compounding this, a fractious relationship with her mother, Camila (Constance Marie) and her now engaged sister, Becca (Angelique Cabral) don't help matters, as Becca is engaged to be married to Reed Hollingsworth (Kevin Bigley), scion of a locally well-to-family.

As family matters build toward Becca's wedding, Alma struggles to keep secret the fact her sister cheated on her fiance with a bartender. She also gets closer to the truth behind her father's murder- and finds out the shocking truth. Heading to Mexico, she waits for the sun to rise over a pyramid with her sister and when her father fails to appear, she begins to wonder whether everyone else is right and she's not bending reality but losing her grip on it- but the viewer is left hanging when she sees-- something, or someone.

Eight episodes seems to be Amazon Prime's sweet spot for a lot of their shows and I've gotta say, that seems about perfect for this one. The first season reveals a lot, sets up a cliffhanger and leaves the viewer wondering what's real and what's in Alma's head- which, with a series entitled 'Undone' it's sort of hard to argue with. My Grade: *** out of ***** and I'll probably watch Season 2 when it comes out.

The Mandalorian wasn't the only reason we dropped Hulu Live and switched to the Disney+/Hulu/ESPN bundle, but it sure helped persuade me. I was honestly curious to see how a Star Wars television show/streaming series would work and the answer to that question is: really, really well. Set five years after the events of Return of the Jedi, the titular character of the Mandolorian whose name we eventually learn is Din Djarin (Pedro Pascal) returns to hand his latest bounty to Greef Karga (Carl Weathers) the head of the bounty hunting guild. He then accepts a new assignment from a mysterious client (Werner Herzog) on the planet Navarro. He is sent to retrieve an unnamed fifty year old target.

He goes and finds the target and is surprised to discover that it is a child of Yoda's species- I'm sorry if that's a spoiler, but at this point, the memes along should have tipped you off that yes, there's a Baby Yoda in this. He gets over the planet and heads back to deliver the child, but a foundling himself, he has a change of heart, steals the child back and goes on the run to protect it- fighting off bounty hunters and ex-Imperial forces along the way. Along the way, he gets allies in the form of Kuil (Nick Nolte-- holy shit, Nick Nolte? Totally didn't catch that.) and Cara Dune (Gina Carano), a former rebel shocktrooper. Eventually, of course- everyone comes back together as the bad guys fnally catch up to the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda.

It's not the Client who catches up with them, but Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito)- former head of the Secret Police of the Empire. After getting pinned down by stormtroopers, Baby Yoda helps them escape and the Mandolorian is officially charged with the task of protecting the child and returning him to his species by the Mandolorian Armorer. They escape, naturally and Moff Gideon's tie fighter is brought down by the Mandolorian on his jet pack- but he survives and cuts himself free with a dark light saber/sword, outlined in white energy.

At eight episodes, this too seems just about perfect. It's essentially a western in space-- think Clint Eastwood's characters from any of the spaghetti westerns and you won't be far off . It's got a few episodes that are obviously bridge episodes to get the overall story from point a to point b- which kind of bothered me a little bit- but the nice thing about streaming is that they can play with length as well- if there's no need for an episode to be an hour long, it won't be which is nice. If I have one complaint about this, it's that everyone seems to come back together just a little bit too neatly at the end of the season, but the finale- appropriately titled, "Redemption" more than redeems itself and sets up Season 2 quite nicely.

The series format also allows us deeper explorations of the individual cultures in Star Wars- we learn a lot about the Mandolorians and their armor, which is fascinating. Overall, I'm very interested to see where this goods. My Grade: **** out of **** and yes, I'll be watching Season 2.

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