Category Archives: series

Broadchurch (s.03, 2017)

Third and final season of Broadchurch is dedicated mostly to yet another detective investigation – this time of a sexual assault that turns out to be one of the workings of a serial rapist. Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller work on the case together – three years after the murder of Danny Latimer. The community that only started getting back to normal after that gruesome death and consequent trial, is shaken again when a local woman named Trish reports being raped after a party that friends Cath and Jim held on account of Cath’s birthday. There were more than 50 men at that party, and after ruling out the majority of them, the circle of primary suspects gets limited to Jim, Ed Burnett (Trish’s boss), taxi driver Clive Lucas, who worked nearby that night, Trish’s ex-husband Ian, Leo Humphries (who runs a local fishing supply business), and a convicted sex offender Aaron. In the middle of investigation detective find out about several other historical victims of supposedly the same attacker. As it usually happens, detectives digging deeper and deeper in search of the perpetrator eventually start to touch upon various sensitive things, most of which turn out to be not related, but which exposure inevitably changes the life of the locals. Beth Latimer gets involved in the investigation as she is now helping the victims of abuse, and gets assigned to Trish. In the meantime Mark, who is not living with his family anymore, is still obsessed with his son’s death and commences to find Joe in a hope that it would compel him move on. Alec Hardy lives with his daughter, and tries to date. Ellie has some minor trouble with her son. Reverend Paul experiences a crisis of identification because the attendance at the church drops lower every day. Maggie is forced to sell the newspaper to a conglomerate, and soon enough contradictions between her vision and that of her new bosses drive her to quit the news reporting business altogether. All these storylines are fused into a complex and integrated picture of the suburban Britain’s today’s life.

As for the quality, the third season is pretty much the same as the first two – a deep, elaborate story with strong component of detective mystery, executed on the highest professional level. Most of the characters of the previous season are gone, although the most important ones remained. The crime under scrutiny is not the brightest or most horrifying, in which respect the show remains true to itself, but it is one of the most deprecated ones, and this kind of attention is really important in this case as it imparts necessary significance to the deed, which, perhaps, would serve to improve people’s attitude to this kind of thing all around the world. It is the fist crime in this series where the criminal intent is rather clear, although, as usual, the overall picture is more complicated than that.

The story arc constructed in the intricate manner characteristic of Chibnall – I failed to figure out the criminal before he was revealed by the detectives. Familiar atmosphere of the show is maintained. All the characters are well-devised; all the dialogs are extremely well-written. This is an amazing show all in all, interesting, captivating, and significant.

Chris Chibnall did a really great job here. I hear he’s going to be the new lead writer on Doctor Who instead of Moffat. I hope he would inspire some interesting changes there.

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The George Carlin Show (s.02, 1994-95)

In the 2nd season of The George Carlin’s Show George McGrady gets an ice-fishing hut; gets found by an adult son; hijacks a package from Chong; deceits a blind passenger; fancies waitress Sidney; is forced to make a life and death decision; gets in the middle between Harry and his wife; cleans his apartment and gets everybody sick; gets both of his ex-wives back into his life; buys a magazine for a kid; gets evicted; smiles; meets an old friend who is a priest; get a truth drug tested on him; and finds out truth about his dad. Sidney and Beck start dating early in the season and go through some ups and downs. George’s girlfriend appears out of the blue in episode 12, and that’s it.

Overall quality of the show remained on more or less the same level. However, unlike with season 1, some of the stuff here is actually funny. Admittedly, only a handful of scenes are worth any attention at all, and even all of them combined do not make watching this show a deserving undertaking, but still it counts for something.

The show in general is a sad example of an unwanted and therefore unsuccessful project; even though some of its components were good enough, others weren’t, and the resulting combination is below average. George Carlin is definitely much more interesting in his stand-ups.

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Making a Murderer (m/s, 2015)

Making a Murderer is a documentary series about Steve Avery and Brendan Dassey, who were accused of the murder of one Teresa Halbach. According to the prosecution, Teresa was unlawfully detained, tortured, raped and murdered by Steve Avery, who just recently was released from prison, where he spent 18 years for a crime that he didn’t commit. Later another suspect gets added to the investigation – a 16-years old nephew of Steve named Brendan. Over the course of 10 hours, every detail of this case, as well as testimonies of people involved and the progress of proceedings, are scrutinized. Notwithstanding the fact that both defendants were consequently convicted, and every appeal they made was rejected, the authors of the film obviously hold the side of the Avery family. And it appears that they have quite a lot of compelling arguments in support of their vision. The case indeed is full of holes and stretches; some intriguing questions remained unanswered, and basically ignored, by the justice system, which seems to be more willing to protect itself than the public.

In regards to the quality of this documentary, it’s far from flawless. There are 2 things that I really disliked about this show – apart from it being extremely tedious, of course, because this quality is inspired by the feasibility of the story, which is based on life, and real-life legal proceedings are excruciatingly boring.

So, the first thing: there’s too much hollowness – all those monotonous views and such, coupled with constant repetitions of stuff that bears no informational, nor emotional, nor narrative value at all. And the second thing: constant emotional manipulations. Whose side the authors are on becomes clear very soon in the story, but they just keep pushing that emotional crap in every freaking episode, as they weren’t clear enough in the beginning. It’s not only unpleasant, it’s also takes too much time. I bet, if you cut out the unnecessary stuff, the show would shrink by couple of hours. And besides, the most interesting content has nothing to do with the family’s emotional turmoil and stuff – it’s the actual video documents, like the interrogation of Brendan, for example; to be fair, there’s plenty of that here as well.

Now, after watching the show you would probably form an opinion as to what really happened there. I have too, and here’s my concept, which is purely speculative, I should add. Better skip it if you haven’t watched yet. Teresa was killed and, probably, raped right after she visited Avery plot. It was done either by her brother (who was way too eager to send Steve behind bars) or by somebody local: maybe Steven, which is unlikely, or somebody else (two guys, who alibied each other, kind of raise suspicion). Her body was ditched at the scene of actual crime, and her car was left somewhere nearby. On the 3rd day of the search the car was found by police officer Colborn, who inquired about it with the police line operator, but then contacted another police officer Lenk, and together they colluded to pin the crime of Avery, who was suing the police at the time (and Colborn probably also as some sort of atonement for coming forward with the 1995 phone call). They put the body in the car and drove it to the Avery’s plot, where they put the car as if in an attempt to disguise it, and burned the body. Later Lenk planted evidence in Steve’s trailer and garage, and the prosecutor came up with the whole rape & torture fable, which Brendan later ‘confirmed’ in his ‘confession’. Later on additional actions were taken to cover up this conspiracy, mostly during the trial.

The big question is: is it worth watching? I think, it is. First of all, it would show you how the legal system in the US actually works, because all the legal dramas on TV kind of contort the picture. And second: underneath it all, it’s an interesting story. A guy who was wrongfully convicted, tried to slap the system back, and got buried by it in response. There is a lot of ambiguity about it, but that’s just life. All in all, even with all the imperfections, this here is a valuable thing.

P.S.: The moral of this fable is really simple: don’t be stupid. It can really hurt you in the long run.

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Roseanne (s.03, 1990-91)

In the 3rd season of Roseanne Becky takes a driving lesson, goes on a date with guy named Robert, starts dating a bad boy named Mark and keeps dating him against the will of her parents, ‘shows’ the finger, consistently acts out, briefly moves in with Jackie, ‘steals’ Darlene’s crush, wants a car, has a falling out with dad, gets a new haircut (without explanations), and almost sells one of her old school papers to Darlene. Roseanne does not get pregnant, talks to her daughters about sex, gets a new job in a mall restaurant, dresses up as a man on Halloween, throws Dan a surprise birthday party, gets jealous, participates in a career day, gets a new manager named Leon at work, almost goes to Vegas, becomes Crystal’s lamaz backup, gets evaluated at her job, and enjoys Mothers day. Dan lends some money to a friend, temporarily takes over at home, throws yet another poker party, worries about PMS, flanks Wednesday, fails to teach his daughters a lesson, freaks out about his father getting re-married, teaches DJ how to fight, gets a flu, gets upset about his bike, has a near-death experience, plays guitar on a barbecue, almost starts a new business with Ziggy. Darlene makes out for the first time (with Brian), loves her great-grandmother, lies to cover for her sister, understands her mother better, dresses up for Valentine’s day, gets two boys fighting over her, and almost goes to a spring dance with Barry. DJ has a box full of heads, mirrors his sister, gets bullied and then finds a brilliant way out, and gets a new friend Jerry. Jackie breaks up with Gary and quits the force, starts doing community theater, accidentally gets to play the primary part in Cyrano de Bergerac, and wants to become a massage therapist. Crystal discloses that she’s been seen Dan’s father, and that they are getting married. The family gets a microwave and a new bed, gets visited by Roseanne’s grandmother, meets the new neighbours, and puts everything’s at stake.

They also get a VCR for the 3rd time, if I’m not mistaken – almost as if they just forget about it every time. There are some worse downsides in this season, though, specifically – the decision not to pursue the ‘writing’ storyline and renunciation of the ‘beauty salon’ environment – both these things, which were pretty great findings of the 2nd season, are dismissed completely, as if they never even existed. Also, there are no episodes in this season that could compare to the brilliant ‘bathroom dream’ episode of the previous one.

However, there is plenty of funny episodes here as well, the best of them is probably the one about PMS surprise party. The new Roseanne’s job has given the show some interesting moments, too, and is likely to give even more. DJ gets increasingly more involved in the narrative, and not just as object at that, but as an equal-impact participant. Well, maybe not that equal yet, but it’s getting there. And, of course, the finale, which ended in a cliffhanger is rather promising, and I hope the writers won’t just sweep it under the carpet.

All in all the season is a little less fun that before, but is really entertaining and funny nonetheless.

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Broadchurch (s.02, 2015)

The 2nd season of Broadchurch follows the development of the 1st season’s primary story line and then adds some. There are 3 main storylines here. The first is about the trial of Joe, which commences after he pleads not guilty, much to the surprise and resentment of everybody living in the town. Over the course of the proceedings the most painful and uncomfortable things about all the participants expectedly get dragged out into the light of day. The second is directly connected to the trial story and is about the working of the legal teams representing the sides. One the one hand, it’s Jocelyn Knight for the prosecution, who goes out of her retirement for this case and whose sight is degenerating; on the other – it’s Jocelyn’s former student Sharon Bishop, whose has no trust in the justice system and whose son is in prison for an unrelated thing. These two clash together in the courtroom, and also have a history outside of it. Finally, the 3rd storyline is about Alec Hardy and Ellie Miller investigating the case of Sandbrook, which also brings into the series a whole new set of characters. As it turns out, Alec has been hiding Clair, the wife of a primary suspect in the former investigation, right there in Broadchurch. Things change drastically after her husband, Lee Ashworth comes back to Britain from France, where he has been trying to start a new life for himself after the case fell apart. There are the parents of the murdered girl, Cate and Ricky Gillespie. Hardy and Miller dive right into the case, uncovering new circumstances and connections. Apart from all of the above, Miller also tries to reconnect with her son, who has been living with her sister since his father’s arrest; Hardy finally gets a pacemaker; and the Latimers try to move on with their lives and save the family after Beth gives birth to a baby girl.

These 3 storylines intertwine with each other very much plausibly, creating a complex and captivating story canvas. The only thing that seemed like a stretch to me is Alec hiding Claire, but it’s not at all impossible, and being presented in the very beginning of the new story, gained the status of precondition rather soon in the narrative. The trial line generated a lot of drama, most of which was quite deep, and all of was really well-executed on every level, with emphasis on the writing and the acting. The legal teams line was more of a supplementary, but also added some interesting things into the cocktail. The Sandbrook investigation line was, perhaps, the most interesting, as it gave not only drama, but also some mystery and suspense. The scrutiny by the detectives was quite intense; the circumstances of the case were interesting; and its outcome was dreadful, and surprising, and realistic. (While the murder of the 1st season was more or less an accident (the killer didn’t plan anything murderous), in case of Sandbrook, it’s more complicated and therefore more interesting than that)

So the season all in all was very good – strong drama with multiple manifestations of tragedy, coupled with detective mystery of high quality. A lot of things to be awed with, a lot of stuff to enjoy.

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The George Carlin Show (s.01, 1994)

The George Carlin Show is a sitcom about a New York cab driver George McGrady. The story takes off when he gets a dog, which he takes instead of large win, and meets a woman, who would later become his girlfriend. The 1st season revolves around his everyday activities: he mostly spends his time either driving a taxi, or sitting in the bar with his friends, including Harry the bookmaker, Jack the bartender, Sidney the waitress, Beck the plastic surgeon, and Frank the drinker.

When taking a look at the first sentence of the depiction above, one might ask a question: why is the series called after Carlin, if the hero’s last name is McGrady? The answer is simple, although it lies outside of the framework of the show: there was no idea behind it other than ‘hey, here’s a great comedian, let’s make a show with him!’ And maybe this is exactly the reason why it sucks so hard.

Even though Carlin is undoubtedly a good stend-upper, and there are some quality elements in the show (Alex Rocco’s acting is probably the most interesting of them), the overall result leaves much to be desired, to put it mildly. For starters, the humor is mediocre. Carlin’s rants may be good for a small scene, but in a narrative they just produce an impression of poorly placed. None of the characters, except maybe for Harry, is colorful enough to make a difference, and all together they just interfuse into a grey-ish common place. The stories are uninteresting, some of them are plain stupid.

The show all in all seems like a complete failure: there’s nothing original, or curious, and very little funny – at least not enough to make it worthwhile.

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Firefly (s.01*, 2002)

Firefly is a space opera drama about the crew of a spaceship called Serenity (of Firefly-class), whose trade is illegal and semi-legal operations (usually transportation) on the outskirts of the sector of universe controlled by the Alliance. The captain of the crew is ex-military major Malcolm Raynolds, who fought against the Alliance in the war, and now harbors no good feelings for it. His second in command is Zoe, his old war-buddy; his pilot is Wash, Zoe’s husband; then there’s Jayne Cobb, the mercenary, and Kaylee, the ship mechanic. One of the Serenity’s shuttles is rented to Inara Serra, a Companion (a high level geisha / escort), a member of the guild, who can gain access to certain otherwise inaccessible places. The story starts off when the captain decides to take some passengers, and dr. Simon Tam with his sister River, and also reverend Book, join the team. It soon turns out that the Tam siblings are actually fugitives; a lot in the story revolves around their status and the way captain and other members of the crew handle it. Besides this storyline, there are no continuous ones; however, there is chemistry between Mal and Inara, as well as between Kaylee and Simon. The show was cancelled after the 1st season, but has a continuation in the form of the feature film.

Most of the stories are separate, whatever cross-cutting tendencies there are, they are rather weak. Both the common plot and the detached stories have stretches and oddities in them, although not too many. The strong side of the show is its humor, which is refreshing and often smart; and, of course, the aforementioned chemistry: that is to say, relationships between all the primary characters are pretty well thought-through and nicely played. The cast is really great.

The show has a distinct westernish vibe, which I do not care very much for, but I guess it’s okay. It is obviously an improved version of StarTrek – they have similarities as to the general layout and the concept; Firefly is more down-to-earth, so to say, more credible from the standpoint of physics and science in general. It’s a pity that many of the implied ideas didn’t come to realize; perhaps, some of them would be embodied in the movie (this remains to be seen).

All in all, the show was fun to watch – the characters are pretty awesome. But the lack of continual story doesn’t allow me to really love it – I’m just not the fan of the format.

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Roseanne (s.02, 1989-90)

In Roseanne‘s 2nd season Roseanne bounces from one lousy job to another (telemarketing, a temp secretary with an architect, fast-food joint, bar) until she lands in a beauty salon, where she finds a decent bunch of people, which compensates somewhat for the degrading character of the job; takes a bath; throws a Thanksgiving party; goes to see her parents with Dan; tends to her father when he gets to the hospital; goes on a diet and starts exercising; gets hit by a car and then compensated for it; falls out with her sister and then falls back in; goes to IRS; has a birthday; and decides to go back to writing, a former passion of hers. Jackie applies to the police training and becomes a police woman; gets drunk in front of Becky; stays in charge while R. is out; starts dating a guy named Gary and almost marries him. Dan quarrels with R. on account of rising tension; holds a poker night with his friends; almost fixes a carburetor; has his friend Ziggy over; repairs his bike; does his taxes; tries to amend his relationship with Becky; and organizes a home office for his wife. Becky breaks the wind in public; starts dating Jimmy, but later falls out with him; passes on the hair routine; acts out; and gets drunk for the first time. Darlene advances in sports; writes a poem; and falls for a boy named Martin.

So the show gradually gets more established in regards to its format and primary tendencies – there is less of the silliness characteristic for the 1st season, the drama is deeper, while the comedy is just as light and warm. Overall quality has improved, if only a little bit. But there are some truly brilliant episodes, in particular the one about the bath and the trial (it’s the highlight of the season), but also the one about the thanksgiving, and the one about the Halloween. A number of episodes with the beauty salon also deserve a special mention as they introduce an interesting and consistent storyline with its own set of amusing characters and long-playing jokes. The characters are contemplated on a deeper level, which adds complexity to almost all of them. (DJ is still too young to impart a self-sustained driving force to the narrative)

The quality of execution remained pretty much on the same level. The humor is often very good, sometimes – excellent. Which says something, considering how much has changed in the society since then. All in all, Roseanne seems like a really great show, and is definitely worth watching further.

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Broadchurch (s.01, 2013)

First season of Broadchurch tells a story of a detective investigation into the murder of 11-year old boy named Danny Latimer. As the scrutiny, led by detective inspector Alec Hardy, who carries the weight of an infamous failed murder investigation in similarly small town of Sandbrook, and detective sergeant Ellie Miller, who was promised a promotion but didn’t get it, goes deeper and deeper into the life of a small community, cracks start to appear on a seemingly calm surface of it. Secrets get revealed, of which there turns out to be plenty, and lives get shattered. Besides the police and the Latimer family (wife Beth, husband Mark, daughter Chloe, and grandmother Liz), the investigation touches upon the lives of the Miller family (Ellie’s husband Joe, and their son Tom), who were friends with the Latimers; reverend Paul Coates; Susan Write, who herself runs from a troubled past; Nigel Carter, a work partner to Mark Latimer; Jack Marshall, an elderly owner of the newsagent; Becca Fisher, owner of the local hotel; Steve Connelly, who claims to be psychic; Olly Stevens, a reporter for the local newspaper; and Karen White, a reporter for the Daily Herald.

So, this is a pretty good detective story, although not ideal. However, all the small drawbacks I can detect even combined do not surpass unquestionable merits of the show.

The atmosphere of the small coastal town is rendered perfectly – this slow, deliberate flow of life that gets disturbed by something that normally never happens in a place like this, – this is pretty great. The characters are all three-dimensional, real people; everyone comes with his own story, some of which are rather profound. The investigative component is quite wonderful – the finale came as a complete surprise to me; admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of detective fiction, but still. Mr. Chris Chibnall managed to bring the story to a close without spilling its essence, which in my book qualifies for the highest mark. In other words, he provided the story with a suspense component of purest quality, but what’s really cool is that it is further strengthened by the drama component that is of no lesser quality, and probably even better. All the small stories aside (although they, too, were really well-written) the final touch for the main story line is truly powerful.

The execution is superb, especially the camerawork. The views are really great.

I didn’t quite like the music – it was okay in and of itself, but sounded pretty much all the time, which was a bit tiresome. And then there’s this matter of similarity to Broen: the atmosphere, the primary layout of the investigation team bear some resemblance, although, to be fair, not that conclusive. Also, representation of the psychic is ambigious, as if he was the real deal, which is dubious.

But, like I said, none of that is too important for the overall quality. Broadchurch is definitely an independent and rather outstanding work of cinema, there’s no doubt about that. At least 1st season of it is.

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Speechless (s.01, 2016-17)

Speechless is a comedy about the family of DiMayos that consists of wife Maya, husband Jimmy, and their three children – boys JJ and Ray, and girl named Dylan. JJ is a kid with disability, and so the family learned to survive in extra hardened circumstances; a lot in the life is build around assisting JJ. The story starts when they move to a new neighbourhood, where social services offer state-sponsored human aid; the children go the a new school, and the household is enriched with a guy named Kenneth, whose job is to help JJ with everything he might need. The 1st season is mostly about adjusting to the changed context of life, and includes a mind-boggling variety of stories. JJ learns to navigate through life without immediate help from the family; becomes a cheer-leader manager; tries alcohol for the first time; falls for a girl and gets rejected; tries sledge-hockey; breaks his chair; fights his addiction to chocolate; tries automatic board; goes to the mall by himself; learns to study without cheating; almost moves to Kenneth’s place; meets and older guy with the same disability; goes to prom; and finally, goes to camp for 10 weeks. Maya learns to live for herself; tries to get rid of Kenneth, but then warms up to him; composes her dead list; holds special needs moms party; looses a van; tries to charm the new insurance lady; meets her ex-fiance; throws Dylan a surprise party for birthday; doesn’t leave a ding on somebody else’s car; quarrels with Jimmy; has trouble letting go. Jimmy moves stuff from the old house; amends the entrance to the bathroom; determines his true role in the family; punches his old roommate in the face again; abuses his power; finds common ground with Kenneth; charms children at the career fair; has juice in the hospital; and plans a layover. Dylan wins a lot; messes with the neighbours; reflects on why she’s running; almost throws a race; likes a boy for the first time; and has a birthday. Kenneth learns his new profession; abuses preferential treatment; joins the snowflakes club; learns a lot of new handshakes; works a store-manager; and briefly acts as a judge. Ray joins astronomy club; develops a long-term walking plan; makes the family do training runs; joins the high society; looks for the keys; almost loses JJ; gets into pyramid scheme; hates the ‘R’ word; and makes plans for summer. The family proves that they are not jerks; plays paintball; has uncle Bill and his family for Thanksgiving; has a big Christmas; goes to road trip; falls ill; thinks about the future; and accompanies JJ to the camp.

The density of events in this 1st season is kind of ming-boggling: in every episode there’s a ton of stuff that is amusing, uplifting – downright fascinating. The execution is impeccable. The casting and acting – just brilliant. All the stories are interesting and significant; also, I totally love how the disabled people are represented in the show – just like normal ones, only with certain special needs, but otherwise no different from the rest of the world.

And most importantly – the show is absolutely hilarious. I mean, it’s really funny, – I haven’t laughed so hard in a really long while; this is definitely one of the funniest shows on TV these days, and maybe, ever. It is wonderful and amazing, and I would highly recommend you to watch it.

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Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.04, 2017)

Forth and final season of Turn provides a wonderful culmination for the story of Washington’s spies. As before, it’s full of events and storyturns. General Arnold becomes a spyhunter general for the British forces. Caleb gets captured by the enemy and tortured by Simcoe, which messed him up pretty bad, but he survived and recovered eventually. Abe, Mary and the magistrate remain in Setauket only for a short time: as one of the measures to resolve the matter of Caleb’s imprisonment, they come up with a devious plan, which kinda works, but still ends badly. Abe joins the American Legion of general Arnold in order to obtain an opportunity of capturing him, as well as pursuing his own objective – to bring revenge on captain Simcoe. Major Hewlett returns to the Americas to continue his service and meets Abraham once again. Townsend continues his work for the ring, up until he’s discovered by his partner. Akinbode comes back from Canada to retrieve Abby and Cicero. While Washington with the French allies think how to put an end to the war, tension in their camp grows on account that people are not getting paid for a really long time. Washington gets obsessed with overtaking New York, but in proper time comes to his senses. Anna and, later, Mary live in the camp and work to reveal the spying company of the British. Ben actively participates in all of the above. Peggy grows to hate her husband, but gives birth to his child. Military action in Virginia foredoomed the outcome of the war.

The narrative, of course, is even denser than that – as with every previous season of the show. And just like before, it gives incredible drama and invigorating action on top of it. All the events of the story are plaited together into a tight, solid canvas that doesn’t have any tears, nor patches, nor strains. It is full with mind-boggling stories. One of my very favourite ones is when Abe together with Champe tried to desert the British camp, and the 3rd guy tagged along with them, – the outcome of it is powerful and violent, and frighteningly beautiful, which kinda characterizes the show as a whole. A lot in the story is built on tiniest nuances – like that little laughter that burst out Caleb’s mouth when Simcoe was interrogating him. It’s extremely realistic – to which the issue of moneys all over, but especially in the finale, is the best proof. And it’s truthful, too. Nobody tries to hide the fact that general Washington was a slave owner, and that he never once thought about freeing them – unlike Simcoe, by the way, which is devastatingly ironic.

Technical implementation is as impeccable as before, nothing changed here either. The acting is totally amazing – everybody is doing an amazing job, there’s nothing to complain about.

It’s all suspiciously perfect. I still don’t know what to make of it. But I surely enjoyed it immensely.

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Roseanne (s.01, 1988-89)

Roseanne is a sitcom classic. It’s about a working-class family, where the mother, i.e. Roseanne herself, works full-time on a plastics factory, while her husband Dan seeks part-time jobs as a contractor. They have 3 children – Becky, Darlene and boy named DJ (aka David Jacob, although full name is never used). Other notable characters on the show include Roseanne’s sister Jackie, who also works on the factory and visits the family house more often than Dan would like, and Chrystal, one of the Roseanne’s co-workers, as well as several others. Season 1 also features George Clooney as Booker, factory supervisor who briefly dates Jackie. This season’s stories include the one about the music contest (lost), the one about a guy buried in the bridge; the one where Darlene gets her 1st period; the one where Becky barters her first real boyfriend Chip for ‘bad boy’ (unsuccessfully); the one where Darlene has appendicitis; the one with tornado; the one about the death of a salesman; the one with Dan’s father visiting, as well as another – with Roseanne’s parents; and in the finale the workers of the factory call in quits.

I was rather sceptical about this show: it’s pretty mellow in the beginning, while I prefer edgy; it’s about family values, which I find trivial; Roseanne is a smart-mouth type, and I was too appalled by 2 Broke Girls, which I watched recently, and was suspicious on account of that; finally, it’s a typical example of the genre, and do not care for ‘typical’ very much. But pretty soon it turned out that mellow actually feels fine, when it’s well-written and sincerely played; that family values are not pushed as much as they are assumed, and there’s nothing wrong with that; that Roseanne is a wonderful character, much more complex and interesting than anything Whitney Cummings could’ve come up with; and though the show is quite typical, there’s nothing bad about it either, as long as the people involved are doing a good job, which in this case they do.

Admittedly, the actors enjoy themselves a bit too much while acting, especially in the first episodes, but even that is tolerable. And the events concerning the children, and the adults, and the relationships in the family, are genuine and therefore pleasant to watch. If nothing else, this show is worth watching for the sweet and kind family atmosphere that it creates, especially for those of us who never knew anything even remotely similar. Plus, it’s pretty curious to watch John Goodman in this part, not to mention Clooney, who is so young and so sweet, it’s just insane.

All in all, it was a warm and amiable experience, and I would surely like to get more of it.

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Liquidation / Likvidatsiya (m/s, 2007)

Likvidatsiya is miniseries fight with crime in Odessa immediately after WWII. The story commences when Georgy Zhukov, ‘Marshall of the victory’, got out of Stalin’s favour and was appointed the head of the Odessa military district. Upon arrival he comes up with a series of ideas on how to liquidate crime in the city once and for all. On the other hand, David Gotsman, deputy police chief in charge of anti-banditry division, works hard for the very same purpose, but is confined by the law, which Zhukov doesn’t care very much for. Besides, before the Marshall was assigned there was a delicate balance in Odessa’s seamy side of life, which was disrupted by all the new activity, sometimes with rather dare consequences. But one thing Gotsman and those acting on Zhukov’s behalf agreed on was the necessity to clamp down and eradicate one very different gang, whose leader, known under the name of Academic, entrenched himself (as would become known later) on the highest ranks of the law enforcement. Gotsman enters the struggle by investigating several seemingly unconnected crimes, all of which involved murders, and soon he was head over ears in that business, also losing one of his closest friends, an ex-thief Fima, who was helping with the investigation and came too close to knowing the true identity of Academic. But, while all that was going on, life continued its normal course as well: Gotsman fell in love, started looking after his health, and also adopted a homeless boy whom he fancied for quick wit and general acumen; his unit got appended an investigator from the military attorney department, Vitaliy Krechetov, who proved to be invaluable to the cause; and so on and so forth. The opposite side of things, i.e. the gang’s, is also demonstrated – with the suspense being relieved gradually from episode to episode.

Okay, first of all: this miniseries is really one of the finest accomplishments of the Russian TV scene ever. Second of all: it’s far from perfect.

However, all the reservations about the show that I have does not change the fact that it’s an outstanding work of cinema. All because it has a number of qualities, some of which tramp everything, specifically – the reconstruction of the everyday life of Odessa in the 1940s; abundance of totally amazing characters, most of whom are unique and curious, even if they only have a couple of lines; vivacious dialogs and speech in general – Odessa is famous for the way its dwellers talk, and this is turned to a great advantage by the show’s writers (and actors, of course); the construction of the story is all in all very solid, conflict and suspense are used quite frequently, and every time – on point, which sums up to a captivating action with cut-ins of decent drama.

Now, as for the drawbacks, here they are, from least to most crucial. Technical quality of the execution leaves much to be desired. Ursuliak and his producers did not skimp on the important stuff, such as the cast, but they did so with the props, make-up, and, worst of all, the camera, which was not very photosensitive – because of that the image looks rather cheap, and even attempts to hide it behind the black-and-white were not successful. The music was pretty good – catchy, but not too annoying; still, to my taste, they used it a bit too often.

(from this point beware of possible spoilers) The way a side story with Academic’s girlfriend was solved is kinda pathetic. I mean, it provided a number of possibilities, each better than the other, and yet they chose the one that closes on itself without influencing any other storyline, and also is quite clumsy. Why go to town if you don’t plan to dance? Beats me.

The character of Academic seemed to me a little weird. He’s extremely smart and gifted all round, but then he decides to go all in without proper assurance of success – as if the deceit of Gotsman and Co could really work on him, especially given all his presentiments; say what you will, but it doesn’t sit right with me. Also, his motivation is really vague, but this one is related to a more significant reservation below.

(here comes the real spoiler) So in the end it turns out that Academic’s gang is a part of a secret organization of some insurgents who are fighting the soviet authority because they hate it more than anything else. And here 2 big questions emerge. #1. In reality there were indeed guerrillas who were hiding in the woods in western Ukraine until about mid 1950s – and they really did hate the soviet (and with a very good reason, I might add), but that was only half of their motivation, the negative one. They also had positive angle, which was about building an independent, national state. Yet, the movie bashfully withholds this terrible information – why? There is not a single peep about it there, moreover – none of the insurgents actually speak Ukrainian, not even among themselves. What we have here are abstract rebels, with practically no ties to reality. #2. For some bizarre reason, all the rebels in the film are also bandits, – and I mean not just one-time offenders or those who commited a faux pas or something, but real hardcore criminals, career criminals – almost as if the writers thought it was the same thing. There are people who consider the show ukrainophobic because of all this, but I don’t think so. There is no such phobia there, there is merely a crime against the veracity of life, – admittedly, not too significant by itself, but still a serious one.

So, yeah – there is stuff that makes Liquidation deeply imperfect, but it still is a great show, truly fascinating as an attempt on historical fiction (especially when compared to the rest of Russian TV produce), and a wonderful entertainment.

Names and figures

3rd Rock from the Sun (s.06, 2000-01)

In the 6th (and final) season of 3rd Rock from the Sun: Mary gets jealous of her sister (yes, she has one), has a crash on Don, goes to an archeological expedition, gets robbed, gets visited by her mother, and gets courted by a secret admirer. Tommy is absent most of the time, but he still goes on the road, loses Alyssa for good, chooses college, leaves for college, and gets replaced as an information officer. Sally opens a youth center with Harry, rebuilds Don (twice), falls for Tommy’s replacement, almost kills a psychic, mistakes Amishes for aliens, and becomes a TV weather girl. Harry becomes the first among the equals, works as a gofer, and dates “twins”. Dick almost marries Mary’s sister, ruins archeological expedition, learns about magic, buys into a timeshare, befriends Mary’s mother, looses ‘best alien’ competition, self-actualizes, turns rival into a monkey, and finally comes clean with Mary. The family visits a parallel dimension (where they live in New York), learns about national anthem, and wraps up the mission.

This is one of the most pathetic final seasons ever. It’s chaotic, full of contradictions, and worst of all – not funny. Admittedly, there are still some relatively good jokes, but very few – so few, in fact, they won’t constitute a one good episode if put together. The amount of completely random, sometimes downright ludicrous ideas and solutions is mind-boggling. The double episode with alternative universe is ingenious, but still not funny, not to mention complete lack of consistency with everything that happened on the show before. The finale is no more than okay, and probably not even that. All in all, it’s a fucking mess.

The reason for which is quite simple – there is no supervision. It’s like a carriage with horses: as long as there is a driver, it goes in accordance with a certain route, but when something happens to him, the horses are still going, but they can’t see the big picture and are bound to bustle about without understanding the past and unable to plan for the future.

By and large about the show: it makes sense to watch the first 3 seasons of it, – even though the 1st one is not there yet, it’s still pretty good, especially when compared to the later ones; starting with the season 4 it all gets worse and worse, slowing down a little bit during the 5th, but then collapsing entirely in the 6th. For a beginning so fine, the ending so miserable is mournful, but what can you do.

Names and figures

Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.03, 2016)

In the 3rd season of Turn the main narrative line shifts a little bit closer to the Benedict Arnold deal. He becomes a victim of unhealthy antagonism and gets accused of being corrupt and, later, even treacherous, even though at the time the accusations were groundless. But they forced him to fight for his honor, which in its turn made him far less grateful to the Congress than before. On top of everything, he felt like he’s not being paid what he’s owed, and this monetary thing eventually outbalanced everything else. With help from Peggy (who soon became his wife) he made contact with John Andre and started negotiating the terms of his defection, and betrayed some sensitive information to the enemy while doing it, including the issue with the american currency, which was losing its value due to unwise economic decisions of the Congress. Later Arnold was appointed the commander of West Point, one of the crucial military bases, and almost surrendered it to the British, which turn of events became one of the superlative points of the season. In the meantime, the Culper ring continued functioning: Abe was dealing with major Hewlett, who became aware of his true mission, Robert Rogers, who was looking to exact revenge on major Andre and collided with Abe in order to secure that, captain Simcoe, who was led to believe that Rogers is coming after him, so he started terrorizing everybody in Setauket and neighbouring towns, as well as with his father, the magistrate, who almost sacrificed him to the authorities, Mary, who showed miracles of ingenuity and selflessness, and Anna, who didn’t quite like what Abe has become and wanted to save Hewlett from him. Townsend in New York was working on acquiring more intelligence, even after he learned what truly happened with his father’s farm. Major Andre was torn between the sake of his mission and his feelings for Peggy Shippen; due to information travelling very slowly back then, some irreparable damage was done in that department. Ben continued his service as the head of intelligence, was wounded at a covert mission and was saved by a Tory named Sarah Livingston, with whom he possibly fell in love; later he played crucial part in minimizing the damage of the Arnold’s defection. Caleb served as an interlink for most of the situations above.

And even this description covers only a fraction of what happened during the season; as before, the narration is extremely dense, rich with events. Some of the characters went to the background (like Washington) or vanished (Akindobe), while others became more important to the development, – in other words, the arrangement of elements has changed a little bit, but not significantly, and that change didn’t result in the quality drop. True enough, there wasn’t a particularly powerful episode worth mentioning separately, like in season 2, but general level remained pretty much the same. There were enough highly dramatic scenes to compensate for any and all alterations.

The most intense storylines, those that produces the most fascinating developments, were the one with Anna and major Hewlett, the one with Andre and Peggy Shippen, the one with Townsends and Abe, the finale of the Simcoe’s witch hunt, and also the evolution of Abe himself. Benedict Arnold’s story arc also showed some truly interesting developments; in particular, I like very much how the general and the situation around him was portrayed – as complex and messy yet humanly understandable deal; there is no primitive dualism whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the show is notable for approaching complicated situations like this with intent to figure out the truth rather than to put blame on somebody. It produces an impression of impartiality not only here, but, as far as I can tell, through-out the 3 season I’ve seen so far.

Exactly as before, the execution is top-notch, and especially I would like to emphasize the camera work, which was awesome, and the acting, where there wasn’t even a hint of decline.

It’s an amazing show all in all, and wonderfully consistent for 3 seasons straight. I hope that the 4th would fall in line with this tendency as well.

Names and figures

Loaded (s.01, 2017)

Loaded is a British remake of an Israeli TV series Mesudarim (by Assaf Harel and Muli Segev) about a company of 4 childhood friends, who created a mobile gaming product, which gained popularity, and then sold it to an american company, thus becoming millionaires overnight. Josh was responsible for general technical development, Ewan managed primary coding, Leon handled business side of things, and Adam aka Watto was in charge of design and everything related. Now they have contractual obligations to work for the acquiring company (or they won’t get a lion’s share of their money), which is headed by the man whom everybody calls the Emperor, and represented in the field by Casey, his assistant, who also made the purchasing decision. At the same time the guys are trying to live their usual lives under the immense pressure of newly acquired fortune (and corresponding changes in status): Josh tries to win back his old girlfriend Abi and not let the money dictate their relationship; Leon buys a lot of expensive stuff, like helicopters, houses and boats; Ewan aspires to tackle his previously suppressed sexuality; and Watto mourns the punk in him, and wants to restore broken relationship with his mother. All these – while they are dealing with Casey who, contrary to their desires, wants to launch the sequel of the successful game.

This is a tragicomedy – some of the parts of the story are deep and dramatic, while others are pretty funny. Both fundamental elements are executed on a great professional level and blend together quite harmoniously. The characters are three-dimensional, including the secondary like (Casey and Abi, in particular), all of them are interesting to watch in development. The main theme (like big money inevitably change everything, even if you try really hard not to let them) is unfolded under strict laws of human psychology and logic of the development of events. All of the secondary themes (like Watto’s dog, cursed boat, Ewan’s water rendering engine) fall in line with main story arc complementing it where necessary.

The only 2 reservations I have are more of subjective nature rather than have anything to do with the quality of the show. First is: the final twist seemed superfluous to me, but that might be because I already made peace with Ewan’s decision by then, and the shift back was too abrupt. Second: I can’t help but feel jealous – even though I understand that what is depicted is true, and money do change everything, and more often in a bad way than in a good, but I still want to try and handle such issue on my own. Too bad I would probably never have a chance. Oh, well.

Apart from that, I don’t see how else the show can be challenged. By all accounts it is a great work of cinema, which I would like to see continued.

Names and figures

Peaky Blinders (s.04, 2017)

Forth season of Peaky Blinders is dedicated to the vendetta that was declared by the New York based Changretta family to the Shelbies. The campaign led by Luca, son of Vicente Changretta killed by Arthur out of mercy, started with sending the black hand to all the principal members of the family, and was led by more or less civilized rules (no civilians, no children, no police). The Shelbies were forced to fight the italians in the context of utter discord within their ranks that arisen due to Tommy’s previous decisions, as well as their multiple enemies stirring up against them, yet they managed to overcome their differences and grievances in the face of mortal danger. In the struggle they were aided by Aberama Gold, head of the wild gipsies, sergeant Moss (only a tiny bit), and Alfie Solomons (to a certain extent). There were 2 secondary storylines: one about the boxing, with mr. Gold’s son being a very talented fighter, – this one interlaces with the main story quite tightly; and second about the socialist movement and upcoming revolution, with ms. Jessie Eden of the Communist party being one of Tommy’s romantic interests, – this one is working all the time, but in the background, clearly being prepared to become the primary arc for the next season.

I loved all of it, except for the finale. As before, the show is build on great music, amazing camerawork (although some techniques (like slow-mo) are starting to get old), and powerful dramatic scenes, filled with conflict and violence. The season took off wonderfully: one of the critical characters was sacrificed, which, given the right circumstances and appropriate execution, is always a strong move; the split in the family seemed unworkable at first, like a sore wound that can’t heal, and that fascinating and delicious. New characters, specifically Adrian Brody as Luca, became a beautiful addition to the show, while old ones never gave the slightest reason to be disappointed. Things went on like that for 5 episodes straight.

And then there was the finale. I have following reservations about it. First, even though the resolution of the primary story arc did occupy the most of the episode, I had a strong feeling that Knight lost interest to it and was just finishing it off, while he truly favoured ‘the next big thing’, which is the socialist movement story; the epilogue, where the transition happened, was too long, I think it would’ve been wiser to move it to the next season instead of unfolding in this one. Second, the deal with the attempt at the boxing match in the long run turned out to be hugely frustrating: when Arthur was killed I felt like it’s one of the best decisions that could’ve been made, and not because I don’t like the character or the actor, – quite the contrary, I think this component of the mix is one of the finest here, but all the more powerful would’ve been the sacrifice (for reasons I mentioned earlier); and when he was brought back, I felt cheated on one hand, and also as if the sacrifice was reverted, which is a different way of fooling not just the viewer, but also the laws of dramaturgy.

This is, of course, my totally subjective stand, but I believe that while Steven Knight is a great author, definitely one of the best in the world right now, he made a mistake by constructing the finale of this season in the way that he did. But, there probably won’t be any consequences to it, save for me being baffled; the important thing is that season 5 is definitely happening, and I hope it would be better than this.

Names and figures

3rd Rock from the Sun (s.05, 1999-2000)

In 5th season of 3rd Rock from the Sun Vicky’s baby turns out to be human, and she moves away, but then comes back to reunite with Big Giant Head and become the queen of the universe. Don gets a byke, gets into a bad accident and heals awfully quick; he also leads an operation on apprehending a videopirat, which later gets highjacked by the state force. Tommy spends a lot of time dreaming about sex, and even looses his virginity, but not with his girlfriend Alissa, who eventually breaks up with him; he takes part in a library poetry contest along with Sally and Hary; raises questions about sex education; becomes a beggar; compiles a new mission statement; gets a job in a fastfood joing; and becomes valedetorian. Sally learns about laundromats; freaks out on Valentine’s day; tackles her shoes problem; becomes an exemplary housewife; starts taking birth control pills; discovers that she’s no longer the strongest; befriends Tommy’s girlfriend; and plans a bank robbery. Harry gets insured; beggs for money with Tommy; starts dating a cop; spends some time in the hole; and almost starts a relationship because of Don’s radio receiver. Dick crashes his car and spends a lot of money on repair; becomes jelaous of Harrison Ford; fires Nina; preaches in choir; learns about charity; and then – about double dating; has a crush on Nina; enters the stock market; goes on a spring break; gets better at bluffing; organizes a strike; participates in a dance contest; falls into a hole in the woods; confuses aliens with gays; learns about sick leave; and discovers that he has a father. Mary wears a cape; films documentary about the family; fails at double dating; kisses ass of the new chancellor; and has a birthday. The family as a whole, besides participating in Mary’s documentary project, also goes to a mystery dinner retreat.

Consequent decline in quality, which I feared after watching season 4, did not happen, but stabilized on a more or less decent level; there were no shitty episodes, but there were very few of good ones, too. In fact, the only episodes worth mentioning separately are: the one about mistery dinner, the one about documentary, and the one about the hole, – interestingly enough, 2 of those were written by the same person, Valerie Watson. The rest of the season is mostly okay – sometimes funny, sometimes not so much, but good enough in general.

Decrease in Vicky’s presence was definitely a positive factor; the development of her storyline, which is also a Big Giant Head’s line, is a little cheesy, but all in all is quite alright. Introduction of new characters, in particular – Janice (played by Chyna), policewoman and Harry’s new girlfriend, was in match with the show in general – not a breakthrough, but far from being a disaster as well.

So, after the stormy season 4, the show managed to normalize its course to achieve the level of the 1st season, – it was more or less the same mixture of good and bad. Honestly, not the greatest of achievements, but, I suppose, avoiding complete catastrophy is probably the best that could have been done here.

Names and figures

Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.02, 2015)

In the 2nd season of Turn the tale of struggle between the best military tailored minds of the British monarchy and those of the American freedom fighters continues. The main attention points of the season include the prospect of the union between the American forces and France (represented, among others, by Marquis de Lafayette), which fails at first due to successful damage control measures undertaken by the British, but later still follows through thanks to the diplomatic efforts of Benjamin Franklin and Co; American forces’ retreat, including from Philadelphia (the capital at the time), and a number of military misfortunes, with the tide turning back in their favour in the year 1778; the attempts of the British intelligence office to undermine the integrity of the Washington’s camp, including an assassination plot, and the beginning of the general Benedict Arnold seduction campaign. At the same time Abe Woodhull, aka mr. Culper, works hard to establish a permanent presence in New York, for which he finds a perfect candidate, who proves admittedly hard to persuade; in Setauket he balances between his father, the magistrate, who is partially involved into his son’s affairs against his will, major Hewlett, for whom he pretends to be a double agent, Mary, who supports him but not his cause, and Anna, who goes through rough times. Conflict between major Hewlett and captain Simcoe (who is put in charge of Queen’s rangers instead of Rogers, and chooses Setauket as the permanent residence site) rises to a whole new level, where the oyster major proves much more capable than he was given credit for, while Simcoe proves to be even more dangerous and bizarre than before. Anna gets courted by both of them, and gradually grows to like Hewlett, while continuing an affair with Abe. Ben briefly falls out of favour with gen. Washington, but still continues to act in his, and the country’s, best interests; together with Caleb he organizes an operation for major Hewlett’s rescue (in order to save Abe), and when it falls apart, – another one, to liberate Abe from the Sugar House prison, where he was kept under suspicion of espionage; he also inserts himself into general Lee’s company in order to prevent the worst of the outcomes. Major Andre, while in Philadelphia, establishes a contact with Peggy Shippen and later falls in love with her, as she does with him, but his ambition prevent him from doing it the right way, and so Peggy becomes a means in his game of turning gen. Arnold. Abby, who travels with Andre, grows to be useful to him, and provides Abe with some important information as well. Major Rogers, who was tasked with a special mission of retrieving a piece of sensitive information, later gets betrayed by the king himself.

As you can see from the sheer volume of the preceding paragraph, the event density of the season is really high, – as it should be with action stories. However, the thing that makes it truly fascinating is not action, but drama, which gains a mind-blowing altitude.

First off, whatever drawbacks the 1st season had are not present here anymore – some of them became preconditions, others went away for good. Second, the storytelling became much more steady, and at the same time acquired the lightness and strength necessary to call it a work of art – this can be seen not so much from where the story goes, but rather from how it moves there: some of the solutions applied were not at all matter-of-course, meaning they could’ve been much simpler, yet the paths chosen indicate writers’ (and, correspondingly, the creator’s) desire to make it a little better than just good enough. And I cannot welcome this approach more. In particular (although the whole season is pretty awesome) I would like to point out episode 7 (the one where Washington pulls the all-nighter), which is even more fascinating than the rest of it.

Acting is befitting to the season’s general level, i.e. it’s really good, one of the reasons for which is deepening dramatic level of the show, which creates significant conflicts (like Anna’s feelings for major Hewlett and for Abe; or Peggy Shippen’s relationship with Andre which pushed her into Arnold’s embrace against her will) thus giving the actors multiple opportunities to go above and beyond. As far as I can tell, the authenticity is also no longer an issue, not to the same extent anyway (or maybe it’s all my whims, and it never has been). Technical execution is quite splendid as well, in particular the camerawork and the quality of image is often jaw-dropping.

The 2nd season is much stronger than the 1st, it’s more eloquent and exciting, too. The story is internally consistent and executed on the highest level imaginable, i.e. it seems all in all close to perfection, and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more.

Names and figures

Friends from College (s.01, 2017)

Friends from College is a tragicomedy about 6 people who remained friends for circa 20 years since they all graduated Harvard. The story takes off when a couple of them, Ethan and Lisa, who lived for a long time outside New York, decided to move back to NYC, where the rest of the company has been dwelling. Ethan is a successful writer, who is now at a crossroads because people who read fiction are no longer interested in serious literature. Lisa, his wife, is a lawyer, and after moving she finds a job in a large firm, the atmosphere in which she starts to hate immediately. While Ethan and Lisa are trying to have a baby (and even go through an ordeal of IVF, depicted, by the way, in great detail), Ethan has a long-standing affair with Sam, one of their friends, who is married to a rich guy. Max works in a publishing house and represents Ethan’s interests; he dates a guy named Felix, and their relationship takes a toll after the company of friends reunites. Also, there’s Nick, an aging man with a trust fund, who had never had a job, and Marianne, a yoga instructor and amateur actress, who is the only person aware of the affair between Ethan and Sam. First season is concentrated on the complex network of relationships between all these people, and on the process of all the defects of those relationships escalating to the point of explosion.

On the one hand, the show deals with pretty serious subjects, like infidelity and unhealthy secrecy in general, the current state of fiction writing, inability to conceive a child, and how normal people can be led to follow the ugliest behaviour trends. On the other – in the intervals between all of that, and sometimes on top of those things, the writers manage to find humor, which is good, and serves to increase the plausibility of the situations at the same time. Most importantly – this mixture works, and pretty well at that. The show is serious, and it is funny, too; the characters are three-dimensional, all with valid backgrounds and intricate but understandable motivation; relationships between them are increasingly complicated, which sometimes makes it difficult to endure on emotional level, but is always interesting and often exciting.

Save for several questionable details (for example, sinking the car in the finale was an obvious move to relieve the tension, that was building up, without revealing the most painful conflict), and the fact that Nick and Marianne are not exactly as interesting to the writers as the rest of the gang, the show is pretty amazing. It has a very specific brand of darkness to it, one mixed with humor in a way that seems rather unique and therefore fascinating. The writing is great, that much I’m certain of.

The acting is pretty good, as well; and same goes to the technical execution of the story – at least I didn’t notice anything bad worth pointing out. All in all, it is a wonderful entertainment and a very, very decent work of cinema at the same time.

Names and figures

Black Mirror (s.04, 2017)

Forth season of Black Mirror, the most interesting miniseries anthology with futuristic angel, consists of 6 episode, each comprising a different story (except for the last one, which comprises 3 stories).

USS Callister is a story about Robert Daly, a brilliant software engineer who created a virtual reality game called Infinity. But even though he’s the main reason for the company’s success, no one at the office actually respects him, probably because he gives out this vibe of personality weakness. As a means to compensate for constant humiliation, he runs a secluded mode of Infinity at his home, that he made to resemble his favourite TV show, after which the episode is called (and which is basically Star Trek). In this game, where he spends most of his free time, he acts as a captain of the spaceship, and the members of his team are versions of his co-workers recreated from DNA samples he managed to collect from remains of saliva on a coffee cup and such. As the creator of the universe he has absolute power over everything and everybody in it, and he uses that power to humiliate and torture. But everything changes when a new addition to the team arrives – a girl called Nanette, who just recently joined the software development team.

There 2 main components to this story: one can be formulated as a question – “what do the toys do when you stop looking at them?”, and the other exercises a notion of an asshole god, an omnipotent entity that enjoys the suffering of others. These 2 are masterfully merged together, completed with deep characters, each with a consistent and interesting story behind him, and seasoned with lots of ingenious and curious ideas about virtual reality and the development of technology in general. The resulting mix is pretty much perfect.

Arkangel is a story about a parental control type of neural implant that has been installed in a baby’s brain with the best of intentions – as it usually goes. With time, however, the power got abused, which led to pretty bad consequences, albeit disastrous only on the level of parent-child personal relationship.

This is a smaller story, meaning it’s not as amplitudinous as most of the others. But it’s just as meaningful, internally consistent and smart. And also very plausible, at least in terms of impact a particular technology can have on relationships between people, which is, really, what’s it all about.

Crocodile is probably the most cruel story of the season. It’s about a hit-and-run accident, which was successfully covered, but when one of the parties to the deal got too jiggered with remorse, the other took the path that led her to most terrible decisions. In parallel to this development, an insurance agent conducts an investigation of a minor accident using the device called recaller, which can read people’s memories and represent them on a video screen.

This one is, of course, about technological advance, but although a crucial detail to the plot, the recaller device is merely that – a detail. What it’s really about is the impossibility to stop once you started doing vicious things; and also about the fact that the crime itself is often not as bad as the cover-up.

Hang the DJ is the prettiest story of the season; it’s a contemplation on the idea of how the dating algorithms should actually work in order to be effective. The plot is constructed in such a way that retelling it would only destroy the desired effect, so I’m not gonna do that. But I can say that you should definitely watch it, – among other thing because it’s one of the few examples of a kind Black Mirror story.

Metalhead is an action story about 3 people in some kind of post-apocalyptic world who came to a distant warehouse to retrieve some particular object. Unfortunately for them, it turned out to be guarded by the dog, a specially designed robot-protector. Two of the three perished rather quickly, but the 3 member of the expedition managed to almost get away.

If not for this story the season would’ve been perfect. Sadly, this here is a foul apple, as it contains weird plot solutions and is downright ridiculous. Most of the questionable solutions have to do with the dog: it’s easy to get how it pursued the tracking device previously injected into the body of the trespasser, but how on earth did it switch to tracking the blood stains afterwards? especially old ones; and how did it manage to re-equip itself with the knife? Both these things require a much more complex behavioural algorithms than those we were led to anticipate judging from the initial circumstances and their development. And, of course, the final twist. I felt like a complete fool when I saw it, my final impression was – “are you fucking kidding me?!”, which is probably not very good for any story. Charlie Brooker wrote this one as well as the others, and I just can’t understand how he managed not to see the bullshit.

Black Museum is a small anthology within anthology. It consists of 3 stories joined on a stem of the infamous Black Museum, which exhibited items related to some notorious crimes. A young girl, who is just passing by and has a couple of hours to spare, visits the museum that is no longer as popular as it used to be, and Rolo Hayens, the proprietor of the establishment, tells her several of the stories. First is about a medical doctor who underwent an experimental procedure and got a neural implant that allowed him to feel what his patients were feeling. At first he used this power to save lives, and not without success, but then something happened and he became addicted to feeling of pain. The 2nd story was about a woman who got hit by a car and went into coma; after several years passed, her husband was made an offer to implant her personality, which was still very much alive, into his brain – a sort of like passenger identity. It worked fine for some time, but then backfired. Third story was about a convict condemned to death, who made a deal to create a virtual copy of his personality for the purposes of entertainment – so that his family would have a source of income after he’s gone. As it often happens, he neglected to notice some fine print in the contract, which eventually led him to eternal suffering.

Season’s finale turned out a really well conceived and neatly constructed story. Ultimately, it’s about the dangers and difficulties of messing with personality; and also about the sweetness of revenge.

All in all the season was – like I said – almost perfect. If not for the episode #5, reason for which existence is a mystery to me, there’s would’ve been nothing to complain about whatsoever. Alas, it’s there. But the other episodes are really fine – interesting, smart, ingenious, – everything you’d except from Black Mirror and more.

Names and figures

3rd Rock from the Sun (s.04, 1998-99)

In 4th season of 3rd Rock from the Sun: Harry gets rescued from the freak show; Mary becomes a dean, but manages to retain the position only for so long; Sally looses her virginity, enjoys their relationship with Don for some time, but later breaks up with him after he proposes; Dick becomes psychologically dependent on fuzzy buddies; Sally dates a man whom she thinks belongs to mafia; Dick experiences a crush for a literature professor, but starts detesting her soon enough; Tommy finds a new girlfriend named Alissa; Sally almost poses nude for a magazine photo session; Dick and Sally briefly exchange bodies; the Solomons learn to do their taxes, and later reunite with their bigger family; Sally finds her own place; Harry plans to have a baby with Vicky; Dick becomes superstitious and does not get a grant; Tommy learns about hockey; Mary starts using a beeper; Dick learns how to use a computer; Tommy becomes a news anchor for a school newspaper; Dick almost gets dissected by an alien hunter; Sally and Don get back together – ish; Dick becomes competitive with another physics professor who wrote a book; the family experiences near-death situation(s); Tommy goes to a prom; and the mission gets visited by the Big Giant Head himself.

Sadly, the general level of the show has never been this low. Although there are still some pretty nice episodes, especially those featuring Kathy Bates and William Shatner, even them are not as exciting as the 2nd and even 3rd seasons used to be. On the other hand, there’s plenty of stories that range from silly to stupid, the most pathetic of them being: the one about mafia, the one about news, the one about body exchange, the one with all the superstitions, and the one with near-death situations. Key words for this season are strained and unfunny.

Most of the primary storylines of the season are fine, but once again – nothing really interesting. Resolution of the previous season’s cliffhanger is okay (shoulder shrug). Dick’s little crush is good enough; same goes for the Sally-Don development, although the writing could’ve been better. There was way too much of Vicky; her trashy presence has been adding a nice tinge before, but this kind of dosage serves no good. Tommy almost had no developments of his own; plus, connecting his girlfriend’s storyline to Dick’s professional competitiveness seems ingenious on the outside, but really only adds to the overall tenseness.

(Another thing: season 3 started with the story twist about the Big Giant Head’s niece being added to the team; she later left the family to wonder the Earth on her own. When the BGH actually visited himself in this season finale, there was not a single mention of that niece, which is a clear sign of control problems, as well as lack of harmony)

Most importantly, the humor leaves much to be desired. Most of the stuff happening during the season is just not funny, and against this background Dick’s eccentricity irritates more than it amuses. Maybe this dip in quality is related somehow to the fact that the Turners are not among the show writers anymore; I’m not sure if they even overseeing the project in season 4; the same thing happened to Dream On when Kaufamn and Crane abandoned the show in favour of Friends, – it turned to shit rather quickly.

The 4th season left me anxious and worried about what the final 2 seasons hold; I hope the situation will improve, but so far it seems like the show started to die.

Names and figures

Turn: Washington’s Spies (s.01, 2014)

Turn: Washington’s Spies is a screen adaptation of the Alexander Rose’s work dedicated to a particularly curious episode of the American Revolution. When in 1776 the British overtook New York and made it their intervention base, friendship between Abraham Woodhull, Ben Tallmadge and Caleb Brewster, who grew up in Setauket on Long Island, turned into a cooperation aimed at procuring sensitive military information in aid of George Washington and his troops. First season tells about the chain of events that led to the rise of what would later become known as the Culper ring, a secret circle that included Abe, as well as his flame Anna Strong, her ex-slave Abby, later on – Abe’s wife Mary, and a number of other people, who worked hard to secure crucial information while trying to maintain a semblance of an ordinary life. The season is full with events and story turns, which are mostly centered on Abe’s life, who is balancing between his marriage, unwanted but already with child, his deep feelings for Anna, who is also married, his resentment towards his father, a local magistrate, and, of course, his relationship with the community, and that with his childhood friends, who are in military service for the colonies. Other important storylines include that of Ben and Caleb, who try to establish the spy ring despite obvious lack of experience; captain John Simcoe of the British army, who serves the interests of the crown and sometimes hides his own agenda behind these declarations; major John Andre, also British, who is one of the key officers to the invasion; major Robert Rogers, who is a legendary scout for the royal army; and later on, freed slaves Abby (who used to belong to Anna, but is now compelled to serve in Andre’s house) and Jordan aka Akindobe, who is taken to serve as a scout by Rogers. All these events are happening against the background of the continuous warfare, which doesn’t really stop even for the winter.

This is a pretty good period drama, with rather intense and interesting story, great acting, and very high level of the overall execution. Almost all the characters are well-fitted, relationships between them are well thought-through, which makes the storylines intertwine in the right ways creating, in the long run, a comprehensive and internally consistent picture full of interesting solutions. However, not everything seems all that great to me, although, to be fair, whatever misdeeds I encountered do not ruin the show but make it less fascinating than it could’ve been.

The most questionable thing about this 1st season is in the image of captain Simcoe, and not just because he’s made into an obvious antagonist. The sequence of events in the first several episodes contains a stretch directly related to him: in reality, I believe, Ben (or Caleb) would’ve killed the man as was promised to Abe, but the writers didn’t want to lose such a convenient irritant, and so they cooked up the story to let him live. As the time passed, this stopped being such a nuisance, but the preconditions of this character’s existence in the story remain vague.

Another story-related thing has to do with Anna, and her decision in the finale, – this, of course, can (and will) be smoothed out with the transitional gap, but I haven’t yet seen the development, and without it it just seems weird.

There also may be some problems with authenticity, which are hard for me to detect as I’m not a historian and have only a ball-park idea of the epoch, but the fact that a lot of male characters remain very cleanly shaved most of the time strikes me as odd, especially considering that none of them was shown in the process of shaving.

I cannot help but compare this show to Hell on Wheels, which, of course, describes a whole different time, but it’s close enough, and it became one of the standards of period drama for me, so the comparison suggests itself. And what keeps me from loving Turn is the lack of internal amplitude – I just feel like it’s a little bit tense, like the whole thing is forced by external obligations rather than internal need to implement the story in the best possible way. But these are purely my conjectures, nothing more.

All in all, this is an exciting and captivating show with deeply elaborated story and heroes that is pretty interesting to watch, and I see no reason not to continue.

Names and figures

Four Kings (s.01*, 2006)

Four Kings is an attempt at a sitcom by the creators of Will & Grace, – Kohan and Mutchnick. It’s about 4 childhood friends, now in their late 20s, who started to live together in a large apartment after it was inherited by one of them from his grandmother. There is no continuous storyline, but rather a set of separate stories barely connected through the relationships within the group.

The show didn’t survive its 1st season – more than that, only a half of the episodes were even aired, – all for a good reason, which is simple: it’s no good. The 4 primary characters are too much alike and not interesting enough to make it work; at least 2 of them can be described as man-children; also, there’s no diversity, meaning no possibility of any kind of lasting tension between the heroes. The stories are nothing special: some of them are sitcom-y conditional, others are merely okay, but none are good enough to arouse excitement. Worst of all – it’s not funny. Some of the jokes are surely amusing, but very, very few, and never above that level, which is a death sentence for a comedy show.

In other words, it’s a complete failure on all accounts. Not nearly worth the time.

Names and figures

Treme (s.04, 2013)

Final season of Treme is dedicated to following through the storylines that were established previously. DJ Davis still works on the radio station, and also tries to keep his band alive, but with little luck; he gets back with Janette, turns 40 and hits a midlife crisis, in the result of which he renounces his names and becomes mr. McAlary, but remains unable to say goodbye to his creative side. Nelson works in Texas as well as in New Orleans, making money, loving the culture and doing some good along the way; he even hooks up with Davis for some projects. Janette leaves her partner and opens up a new restaurant, which she cannot name after herself due to contractual obligations; having started from the beginning, she once again struggles for mere existence. Albert tries to treat his cancer, supported by his children and LaDonna, but all in vain. Delmond’s girlfriend becomes pregnant, which, along with his father’s illness, forces him to rethink his ways in life. LaDonna rebuilds her bar, while trying to figure out things with Larry, who still expects her to come back. Baptiste continues his career as educator, but when the music program gets cut, he starts gigging again, this time with better success. Tony works yet another civil rights violation case. Terry moves in with her; he still is waiting for the FBI to clean the house, which eventually happens; he testifies in court, leaves the ranks, and becomes a shirt salesman in a different state. Annie grows as a musician, leaves her band behind after lots of blandishments from her manager, and starts recording an album with professional musicians outside Louisiana.

Unlike season 3, where there was a lot of bullshit, here only the LaDonna + Albert development can be referred to as such – there’s too much of a gap between where the writers left off and with what the new season began. Also, there was not a word about LaDonna’s case. Besides that, it’s all okay. Barely more than that, though: the resolutions to all the storylines are logical and more or less consistent, but there is nothing fascinating about any of them. The music is fine, I guess, but not very interesting. The excitement of the 1st season is long gone, – of course, it was gone at the end of season 2 already, but the sad thing is that none of the attempts to bring it back worked. If season 3 was a rapid decline, in 4th they managed to level it and turn into a flat line, a plateau, but failed to provide a single peak on it.

I suppose, if you wish to remain in love with the show (and, consequently, with New Orleans), you shouldn’t go any further that season 2. It just wears off after that. And no amount of respect given to the prototypes of the characters (most of whom are real people, by the way) can make it better. All in all, it’s not worth it.

Names and figures

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