Category Archives: series

Grace and Frankie (s.04, 2018)

In the 4th season of Grace and Frankie Grace starts dating Nick, her business competitor, and their relationship proves to be quite durable notwithstanding that Grace freaks out about her age and health problems. Frankie realizes that she hates Santa Fe, and is forced into a difficult choice, because Jacob cannot stay away from his family there. Eventually Frankie comes back to California, and meets Grace’s latest friend Sheree, whom they help to get back what’s rightfully hers. Robert and Saul engage in the activism, until Robert comes to conclusion that it’s not exactly what he wants. He goes back to community theater, especially after he gets awarded with a Tappee for his previous performance, and becomes a star of the brand new production. Because of the discrepancies in their views on how their family should evolve, Robert and Saul encounter certain problems with communication, and turn to therapy; their therapist suggests some unconventional methods, which they reject, but it still opens some new horizons for them in the long run. Brianna continues dating Barry, who goes to work for one of her biggest rivals; later on she experiences a serious trouble with her business. Mallory finalizes her divorce and, for lack of anything better to do, goes to work for Brianna as an unpaid intern. Coyote dates a sexoholic in recovery, and tries really hard to follow her guidelines. Bud proposes to his pregnant girlfriend, who later gives birth to a beautiful girl Faith. Frankie legally dies and goes through hell trying to reinstate herself; she becomes eschatologically aware and makes peace with her estranged sister Teddy. Due to Grace’s health issues (problems with knees), as well as he drinking and some bad decisions (a contractor she hired stole copper pipes from the house), and also because of an incident with Frankie when she almost drove the baby to Mexico, the children plot to put them both in a retirement community, and even succeed in that – but only temporarily, for Grace and Frankie, like Thelma and Louise, break out of the social convention and make a run for it.

Honestly, there’s not much to say – the season is beautiful and light, and pretty much flawless, just like the rest of the show.

The only thing I didn’t quite like is that Sheree (played by Lisa Kudrow) does not come back after her storyline is finished, but that’s a tiniest thing that doesn’t really effect anything.

In all the other respects the story is absolutely great. It is well constructed; the connectivity tissue is dense enough – there are no gaps neither in the characters’ motivation, nor in the causalities. The developments are logically conditioned and interesting to follow. The dialogs are airy and simply good. The humor is subtle, rich and deep, which, however, doesn’t make it overly complicated.

The execution is impeccable, as can be expected. There is nothing to reproach it for – nothing serious anyway, – the show is pure delight.

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Through My Eyes / Moimi glazami (s.01*, 2013)

Moimi glazami is an experimental action drama, in which everything is shown through the eyes of various characters, – a first-person show. Every episode is told from the viewpoint of a different character, and together they constitute a story about a scientific project gone wrong. The trouble emerges to the surface during a high-school graduate party. One of the classmates of a particular batch goes missing a few days prior; and during the party a girl who was close to him gets killed. The following events are told by Lyosha Kazantsev, Kolyan, Maksim Volkov, Katya Chunina – all classmates, – Yuriy Samarin, a police detective, Lisa, a nurse, Vera, Lyosha’s sister, Petya Ermakov, a young police officer, Valeriy Volkov, a doctor and a curator of the ‘Rainbow’ project, as several others, and through all their reports combined a menacing picture becomes visible. Apparently, some genius scientist developed a method of detaching human soul from the body and moving to another. The technology was hijacked by the government, but they failed to save (or keep) the actual inventor, and so they had to reconstruct it from the papers he kept, – it was called project ‘Rainbow’, and doctor Volkov was in charge of it, together with a few other scientists. Things went wrong because the task of selecting a subject to experiment upon was entrusted with the security officers – they chose a hardened criminal, psychopath Aleskander Tkachuk, who already had couple of dozen murders on him. His soul was supposed to be transferred into the body of a homeless person, but during the operation he somehow managed to escape. Several people died, but dr. Volkov eventually managed to contain the runaway soul (which was seen as a cloud of black smoke with a gleaming core when outside of a body) into a special vessel that could be operated only with the use of a key. He gave both the vessel and the key to his son Maksim ordering him to keep them separate. Maksim told Katya about it, but she thought it was bullshit and used the key to prove her point – and the black smoke escaped again. Subsequently he wrecked havoc trying to recover both things (for they were required for his new form to sustain), while the rest were trying to make sense of what’s going on, and save themselves from the evil entity.

The first major component of the show is, of course, the story – as it always is. In this case it’s average, meaning that on the one hand it’s quite interesting and captivating, but on the other – it has quite a lot of logical lapses and stretches. The essence of it is of mystical nature, which works quite fine – the prerequisites of the idea have more to do with fantasies than with real life, but they are not too far-fetched – just the right amount. Weaknesses of the story lie in a different domain – that of characters’ motivation and the connection tissue of the plot. Admittedly, without most of the stretches made the story wouldn’t have worked at all, so they were necessary in a way, although would Kulikov worked harder, he could’ve avoid them altogether.

On the other hand, the authenticity of the environment is top-notch, as well as most of the dialogs. If you want to study how the russians behave, talk, walk, etc. in their native habitat, this show could provide you with some exceptionally useful information – for the most part it’s very (and I mean very) close to real life.

The second major component here is the execution, and that’s where it really shines. It’s not that easy to create a consistent story with the 1st person view, and Bolotaev (who was the director as well as the cinematography guy) managed to do it for 19 episodes straight on an a truly amazing professional level. The camerawork is totally mind-blowing, as well as the way the scenes are edited together – this is absolutely astonishing, Special effects are well-devised and nicely implemented; at the same time they are not overly obtrusive (which is often the case with russian cinema), and blend with the overall style very well.

This approach in and on itself is an outstanding thing and should definitely alter the art of cinema to some extent. However, other parts of execution are not as bright. Although, most of the actors casted are doing extremely well, some are not so much. Except for Anatoly Goryachev (dr. Volkov) and Lidia Omutnykh (Anna Ezhova, a security officer), who were consistently not very good, I believe all the cases actors playing out of tune are the director’s fault – because the same actors did just fine in different episodes. I think, it might be due to Bolotaev’s lack of experience with actors, or maybe he was too preoccupied with doing the 1st person view right. Either way, there are multiple instances of falsity, which doesn’t make the show more credible.

So, all in all, even with the many omissions and drawbacks I detected, I think this is a very much valid attempt – also with truly amazing original work. It may not be perfect, but it’s worth a look, that’s for sure.

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Penny Dreadful (s.01, 2014)

Penny Dreadful is a horror and mystery period drama. The story is set in the late 19th century London, where sir Malcolm Murray, an explorer of the African continent, is trying to find and rescue his only daughter Mina. Mina was taken by a supernatural entity that everybody calls the Master. Sir Malcolm, together with a coeval and a former friend of his daughter’s ms. Vanessa Ives (with whom they have a very complicated history), assembles a team of daredevils that includes, besides the two of them, Sembene, Malcolm’s servant and assistant he brough from Africa, doctor Victor Frankenstein, and Ethan Chandler, an american sharpshooter with more than one secret in his baggage. Looking for Mina they uncover and attack the nests created by ancient vampires. Ms. Ives is a medium with a strong and often undesired connection to the spirits world; she is wanted by the Master, because she is capable of becoming a permanent vessel for ancient deity called Amunet, – and if she surrenders to the temptations of the dark one, it could lead to the complete devastation of the human race. Ethan is haunted by his past and tries to evade going back to America; he meets ms. Brona Croft, who is dying of tuberculosis, and falls in love with her. Doctor Frankenstein tries to conquer the realm of death, in which he had certain success before, but at some point his mistakes start to get in his way threatening to undo his whole life’s work. Ms. Ives, as well as Ethan and Brona, encounters a mysterious young man by the name of Dorian Grey, who likes portraits very much; he has little to do with the search for Mina, but rather serves as a connection link tightening the plot stiffer.

The story is quite amazing: it’s consists of several storylines, each of which is quite powerful and complex in itself, and the combination of them is exquisitely balanced, and produces an impression of a seamless whole. It is easy to notice that it combines several pre-existing intrigues, such as the Frankenstein story and the Dorian Grey story, together amplifying the mix with a collection of original ideas. In modern cinema there were several attempts of such synthesis, and this one is arguably the best of them.

John Logan aptly amalgamates powerful drama with intense supernatural action and adds a hint of suspense and mystery. He not only constructed the story absolutely perfectly, but also wrote mind-boggling dialogs that are smart and stylish and rich in language. This show (the 1st season, anyway) is an endless source of delight to any connoisseur of the dramatic arts, as well as of the word.

The execution, though, is just as powerful. The reconstruction of London of late Victorian era is exceptionally authentic or, at least, convincing; it is strong, gloom and in very good taste. There were a number of truly amazing scenes – one of the most memorable, perhaps, is the séance in episode 2; also, I really loved how the machinery of a theater is shown; but, of course, that’s just a tip of an iceberg. The story is quite violent, which is depicted gruesomely but without going too far.

The cast is extremely well chosen. All the primary characters are played brilliantly, but especially I would like to distinguish the works of Eva Green and Josh Hartnett, both of whom were quite outstanding even compared to the rest – really, all of them were truly astonishing.

I suppose, I could continue singing praises to Penny Dreadful, but there’s really no point. Suffice it to say that this show is pretty much flawless – so far, that is. It is a worthy and delicious spectacle. Highly recommended.

Names and figures

Will & Grace (s.09, 2017-18)

The 9th season of Will & Grace is the first from the planned reincarnation triple. In contrast with the original run, the show has been updated to resemble the present times, and also became much more political. In the course of the season: Will falls for a republican power-gay; tries to date a much younger guy; makes senior partner in his firm; comes to work with Grace; hooks up with a bread maker; has a little thing with Larry; attends Vince’s wedding; deeplikes his ex Michael; and inadvertently brings Grace’s father with them. Grace blows a chance to decorate the Oval office; gets a biopsy of her bigger boob; has words with Leo the ex-husband; lads a big client; hooks up with a bread maker; bombs at QVC together with Will; nails three generations of one family; attends a baby shower; fights for the MAGA cake; drags Will to visit her family; and summons Will’s mother. Jack tries to keep up with the modern gays; teaches acting to kids; meets his grandson and saves him from the fixing camp; ‘wins’ $2000 in a lottery; catches an ear-worm and gives it to Karen, too; becomes a Lyft driver; starts a serious relationship for the first time – with Drew the cop; gets dumped; goes to Ibiza and comes back with a boyfriend. Karen meets Beverly Lesli again; suffers a terrible blow when Rosario first has a heart attack and then dies in the hospital; runs into Val; watches the Staff Show; hooks up with Malcolm and is forced into a difficult choice. All four of them celebrate Christmas by going on a historical society tour (the Irish Tale).

Only a half of all the jokes were funny. Some of them seemed really contrived. The stories all in all were mostly just okay. The level of sentimentality in them is higher than comfortable, but, to be fair, does not bring into melodrama domain. The political component is fine by me (although it is rarely truly amusing), but already in a couple of years it would be completely unreadable, so this probably cannot be deemed a strong feature of the show as well. The way the writers made play of the Rosario absence was not particularly great – merely okay.

On the bright side, all the primary characters look really great, and it was really nice to see them doing good.

Generally speaking, the reanimated show far is mediocre rather than anything else. The narrative lacks strength, and the humor is often slapstick and unnecessarily loud. It was fun, I guess, but I wasn’t delighted.

Names and figures

Dark Matter (s.01, 2015)

Dark Matter is a space opera about a crew of a ship called Raza. One beautiful day the six of them come out of stasis without any knowledge as to who they are and what are they doing there. Each of them acquires a name-number, in order of awakening, to identify each other before they could find out the truth. They soon learn that they are a team of mercenaries sent by a multi-corporation to a distant colony to exterminate the miners living there. They, however, refuse to follow that program and provide help for the miners instead. The subsequent episodes follows the development of the story as they gradually uncover their true personalities and fuse into a sort of family. The five of them who constitute the original crew seem like cut-throats, but are actually gold-hearted, honest and internally beautiful individuals, which they discover about themselves with the help from the girl, a fare-dodger, who got the initial designate of Five, and who has an ability to travel other people’s dreams. #One turns out to be the heir to a huge fortune, whose wife has been murdered and who altered his own appearance in pursuit of a suspect. #Two is an artificially constructed human being. #Three is a gun-loving mercenary who rescued a dying woman trying to cure her decease. #Four  is an heir of the quasi-japanese empire who has been setup by his stepmother and is a suspect in the murder of his father. #Six is an ex-rebel, who unwillingly took part in a terrorist attack that resulted in a 10,000 people dead. The crew is additionally aided by an android who has a neural link with the ship, and is much more than just a robot.

Two words to best of all characterize this show is cheap and dumb. Cheap – because everything here looks like it’s a child’s toy made of plastic, including the characters. Dumb – because all the stories are banal, commonplace, predictable, boringly shallow, melodramatic, and full of contrived coincidences. This is a show that sits on the crossroads between Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5 and Startrek, but is worse than any of them, including the latter, which is not that great also.

Psychological elaboration of the characters is terrible. Each of them is completely implausible, and some combine several layers of implausibility; but worse than that, they all are nauseatingly goody. They are actually supposed to be mercenaries, and ones possessing pretty daunting reputation at that, and yet, each turns out to be an inherently decent person with no long-standing flaws of character whatsoever. Correspondingly, none of them could ever die – not in this story anyway, – which makes the show rather tedious, because no matter how dangerous the current threat is, we always know that ours will prevail in the end, this way or another.

The stories on the one hand are intricate and overly complicated, and on the other – always end up with the good guys winning. The enemies (some of whom are villains) are vapid; all of them have an endless supply of pawns, who get crushed by the good guys with exceptional ease. Developments are subjected to the writers’ arbitrariness, meaning in all the critical spots there always would be a deus ex machina hiding to save the day. The good guys are all geniuses in some field, but sometimes the writers let the enemies overpower them for no particular reason except than to push the plot into a right direction.

The execution is mediocre on all levels, including the acting.

All these conclusions became painfully clear to me while I was watching the very first episode of the 1st season. Unfortunately, my hopes that it would somehow become better died in agony. It can’t become better. It was born like this – a senseless, grey-ish, moronic freak of cinema. Not recommended – a waste of time.

P.S.: I was lurred into this by the title – it suggested some kind of relation to science, which I’m a fan of. But there is nothing scientific here. It’s a B-rate wild concoction of the lowest sort.

Names and figures

From Dusk till Dawn (s.03, 2016)

Third season of From Dusk till Dawn revolves around the struggle of the heroes with a bunch of demons from xibalba (hell) led by superdemon named Amaru, who occupied the body of Kate. Fighting one demon after another, they try nevertheless to preserve Kate, who is still there, even though Amaru controls her completely. Most of the heroes work together from the start, but some require additional convincing – Kisa (aka Santanico) joins the battle only after Amaru kills her newly found love; she then spends a lot of time gathering pieces of Carlos back together. A lot in this development is tied on the last remaining lord. Over the course of the season such locations are available as the abandoned hospital (where Amaru first revealed herself, which resulted in mass murder) and very special prison (where culebras and humans live together, and which is ran by the inmates). In addition to the previously known characters (the ranger (aka the peacekeeper), Scott, Seth and Richie Gecko, Carlos, Santanico), new ones appear, including Ximena (right hand of the last remaining lord), who has a thing with the ranger, and Burt (Ilhicamina, the ancient superhero). The struggle is tight, and constantly within an inch of complete debacle, but eventually the good defeats the evil against all odds.

Perhaps, the only curios thing here is the new cast member Tom Savini – he played Burt in this season, but is better known as the Sex Machine from the original movie. He was sort of whiff of fresh air in the otherwise vitiated atmosphere of the show.

The most amazing thing about is how easy it went from ‘not so bad’ of season 2 to ‘unbelievable crap’ of this season. While the execution all in all remains more or less okay (action, special effects, acting), the story is so excruciatingly bad it makes all that stuff absolutely irrelevant. First of all, it’s absolutely concocted – there is nothing in the previous season whatsoever that would’ve indicate the possibility of such development. The plot is literally pulled out of writers’ asses; at that the further it goes, the more bullshit piles up: the credibility of the story took a huge hit already in episode 1, and each next episode only made it less and less feasible.

The drama turned into melodrama – shallow rooted, contrived, fake. The action was relatively fine (although some fights looked pretty cheap), but without drama it is a rather dull thing. And this show would’ve been indeed boring as hell (as xibalba, sorry), if it wasn’t so nauseating. It basically consists of clichés from top to bottom, which also makes it extremely predictable – the overall layout became clear as soon as they started talking about those stupid demons. Notwithstanding their contradictions our so different characters would eventually join forces to fight off the common enemy that would otherwise destroy them all, blah-blah-blah. Disgustingly primitive.

Which is why I’m not surprised at all that the show was silently shut down. If I were the head of the network who allowed this monstrosity to exist, I would seriously consider blacklisting Robert Rodriguez entirely.

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Speechless (s.02, 2017-18)

In the 2nd season of Speechless JJ comes back from a whole letter he spent in the camp; he almost misses a chance for the 1st kiss, but the family helps him out; fake dates Nora, a new wheelchair girl, under the peer pressure (shipping); thinks about college; takes a girl to the Star Wars movie premiere instead of Ray; does not graduate; gets home schooled; turns 18; gets his own cave; gets a dating profile; shoots a short film and gets a minor award for it. Ray can’t stop talking about his new girlfriend Taylor; they soon celebrate their 100 days anniversary; almost starts a charity campaign for JJ; drives a car and turns into Blaze; freaks out about Lars the exchange student; gets a car; gets dumped; and plays basketball in an attempt to win Taylor back. Dylan realizes that she is stuck with the school; tries to pull the grandest prank; gets a pet snake; wrestles and gets her 1st kiss. Jimmy takes a shower; gets a promotion at work; has a sex talk with Ray; fails to eat the Godzilla roll; gets a lot of free turkeys; gets a night out with Maya; tries to educate the dog; gets the taste of architecting, and accidentally gets the family evicted. Maya shoulders an exhausting task of educating a bunch of worthless people into becoming special needs kids aids, because earlier she made several other families join their school, but didn’t get the funding; finds out that Taylor’s mother is her enemy; receives her mother Andrea for Thanksgiving; goes to a fundraiser; battles the teachers; gets a jury duty and reveals the truth about her father. Kenneth fights with his father; enjoys empty school at night-time; and remains present at all the major family events. The kids eat a bunch of really old candy for Halloween and undergo some hallucination adventures. The family gets a dog named Pepper.

Obviously, the season is just as eventful and lively as the first one. The quality of it also remained on the same level – it’s extremely funny, and uplifting, and interesting. All the stories of the season are the kind you want to follow; at the same time there is a cross-cutting consistency – the evolution of each of the characters, as well as of the show in general is logical and has no conflicts with anything previous. What’s important, there’s also no contrived bullshit – the stories are rich enough, and the writers are talented enough, to stay within the framework of feasibility. At the exception, perhaps, of the Halloween episode, which is an intensely fun fantasy, and also the only such example in the whole season.

Execution has also been preserved on the exceptionally high level that was established already in the 1st season. All in all, in terms of quality nothing seems to have changed at all. The show was absolutely amazing from the get go, and it still is.

I really hope there would be continuation. So far there is no information about it whatsoever.

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The Method / Metod (s.01, 2015)

Metod is a russian procedural series, a detective drama about a renowned investigator Rodion Meglin who specializes on serial killers, and fresh out of law school Esenya Steklova, daughter of a high-ranking justice system official, who becomes Meglin’s intern. Together they drive around the country investigating various cases, most of which are series of murders. Meglin is different from other police officers because he has some kind of special method that allows him to achieve a unsually high crime solving rate, and that Esenya is supposed to learn from him. Almost every episode of the season features a separate story, with a different criminal, but there are also several cross-cutting storylines. The first of them is the mystery of Esenya’s mother’s death: she was murdered many years before the events of the show, and her killer has not been found. Over the course of the few month Esenya and Meglin would be working together she would find out a lot of new things about her parents, and their relationship with Meglin, and she would eventually learn the truth. The second recurrent storyline is the one about ‘you won’t catch me’ murderer: he first manifests himself in the 1st episode, when he targets and kills one of Esenya’s fellow students, Anyulya, using a simpleton jewelry master as his puppet, and when Meglin gets the guy basically in the act. But he still fails to figure out the mastermind. Later he would time and again tease Meglin by using other people to do the killing, sometimes getting pretty close to Meglin himself, but would always stay in the shadow. Few last episodes of the season are dedicated to the murderer nicknamed the Shooter, a long-time acquaintance of Meglin. They first met in the training school, and were rivals back then. Later the Shooter left the force and later still started killing people. Meglin caught him and sent to prison, but the Shooter managed to get out, and immediately went into killing spree mode, this time toying with Meglin. Already in the beginning of the season Meglin is ill, maybe terminally, and his condition gets gradually worse – he repeatedly gets convulsions and hallucinates. He decided to take an intern so that he can transfer his experience as a detective before it’s lost forever; but because it’s Esenya, their relationship eventually grows into something bigger than simply mentor-mentee connection.

First of all, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. This show is far from perfect by a long shot, but it is already on the level with the US filmmakers produce. There are a lot of truly great things in the show: wonderful execution, great acting, interesting stories, consistency of the cross-cutting storylines and naturalness of their evolution. Khabensky does a wonderful job playing Meglin, and most of other characters are well-defined and played on a good professional level. Most of the storyplots are well thought-through, and most of the dialogs sound quite natural.

But, of course, it’s more interesting to talk about the drawbacks, which are quite plentiful, too. The least significant of them is, perhaps, Paulina Andreeva’s acting (she played Esenya). Don’t get me wrong – she is not only smoking hot and beautiful woman, she also is obviously a gifted actress, and most of the time she did just wonderfully. But there were scenes – the interrogation, for one example – when she terribly lacked subtlety. She doesn’t have enough acting experience, and so when she can’t apply her inner power to show something emotionally charged, she overcompensates by talking too loud, too intense, which, frankly, doesn’t work. I believe, though, that if she’d realize this weakness of hers, and work on it, she might get an Oscar some day.

The rest of my issues are about the writing. First off: some of the vertical stories are not that well-written, in a sense that they may include story-driving fortuities, which is always a weak move. Second: dialogs are often coarse, meaning they look nice and well on paper, but do not sound natural when pronounced. It was maybe the lack of time, but what Bykov should have done is to rehearse dialogs with the actors and modify them in accordance with the speaking preferences.

Finally, there’s the structural issue. As I mentioned earlier, most of the season is dedicated to the ‘you won’t catch me’ killer. The story builds up as they usually do in such shows, until suddenly, in episode 14 it basically dismissed – or it seems that way up until the season’s finale, when a sudden twist almost makes up for that dismissal. Almost – because the way it was solved did not seem conclusive to me, meaning there was obviously something wrong about it, and yet, neither Meglin, nor Esenya, both of whom are supposed to have this amazing intuition, suspected a damn thing. That was a weak move and a setback, and the fact that it was somewhat compensated in the finale with a manifest intention to make the 2nd season about it, doesn’t really make it better.

So, in a nutshell, what we have here is a very, very decent detective show (influenced by Dexter, by the way), – not without serious defects, but, all things considered, very well done and also highly promising. And for the russian TV it is definitely a breakthrough – although, it is mostly because russian TV is infinitely shitty. Be that as it may, Method can be watched and also should be watched. It is kinda worth it.

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Hot in Cleveland (s.01, 2010)

Hot in Cleveland is a sitcom comedy about three girlfriends out of Los Angeles who settle in Cleveland, Ohio. Victoria, star of the daytime TV, Joy, celebrity hair removal specialist of british descent, and recently divorced Melany were flying to Paris, when their plane was emergency landed in Cleveland, so that they had to spend a day there. Appalled at first, they soon got inspired with the charm of the province, where they were not just mediocre versions of the beauty standard, but true queens of hotness. Melany decided to rent a house, and the other two followed her lead. The three of them settled together with a housekeeper, an almost 80 years old woman named Elka. The first season follows their adventures in the environment that was entirely new for the three newcomers, and has drastically changed for the 4th member of the group. Mostly it’s depiction of their attempts at arranging their personal lives. Elka gets engaged to an elderly guy named Max, and has him competing with a rival. Joy tries to date a guy who turns out to be not her son, and then another, a possible murderer. Melany goes through several guys, almost has a thing with a singer Holly Nash, almost reunites with her ex, and then starts dating a cop name Pete. Victoria shoots a commercial for Japan, directs a local school’s adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and acts in it, and later lays claim to the daytime Emmy award. When Elka in order to pump her chances starts a rumor about her having a disfiguring disease, she goes along with it trying to fake the symptoms. Over the course of the season all the characters improve their relationships with other members of their respective families. In the finale Elka is discovered to be in possession of a great variety of stolen jewelry.

As it often happens, the show starts off on the average level of everything, and then gets better with time. The premise feels somewhat artificial at first, but after several episodes pass, and the new environment more or less settles, the awkwardness goes away, the acting becomes bolder, and the writing – more ingenious. The two main components of the cocktail of this series is the contrast between the California glare, bright but superficial, and Ohio provinciality, solid but dull; and the chemistry within the nonuniform group of the 4 ladies. All in all it works pretty well – surprisingly well.

Of course, power cast has something to do with it. All the 4 primary characters are pretty well-known, and, more importantly, do a beautiful job. They are further reinforced with a range of great secondary characters and guest stars, such as Wayne Knight and Susan Lucci.

But the main thing is still the writing. The stories, although revolved mostly around romance and relationships, the least original thing in the world, have certain freshness to them that derives mostly from the aforementioned 2 components. The humor is pretty nice – not great, but it can definitely get there, and already in this season there were a few truly amazing ideas, such as the theme of the finale, or the smart bleeping in the airport.

All in all, at this point the show seems to have a lot of potential. It’s fresh and vivid, and funny enough.

Names and figures

From Dusk till Dawn (s.02, 2015)

Second season of From Dusk till Dawn is finally free from shackles of the original movie. The story follows Seth Gecko, Santanico Padnemonium aka Kisa, Richard Gecko, Katie Fuller, Scott Fuller, ranger Rodriguez, and Carlos immediately after their memorable time in Titty Twister. Seth and Katie remain together at first, and pull several minor jobs before parting ways. In the following events Seth is driven by the desire to snatch a piece of jack, and Katie – by the aspiration to help her brother Scott. Scott remains with the vampires as the errands boy, but soon starts making his way up the ladder, torn between the supreme management and Carlos, who carries on his own play. Carlos goes through the labyrinth, and comes out of it a changed person. He rips out his own fangs and strives to ruin the original hierarchy entirely. His line corresponds with that of the lords up until certain moment for he keeps his true intentions concealed for as long as he can. Richie and Santanico stay together most of the time, also pulling several jobs with an aim to hurt the lords’ supply of blood. They share a purpose of hitting the organization in its very heart, but while Santanico is driven by hatred and desire to avenge, Richard simply wants to replace the management with himself. This contradiction comes to the forefront of events soon enough and becomes the reason for them drifting apart. The season features two of the nine lords: Malvado is the oldest of them and acts to contain the problems, return Santanico to where he thinks she belongs; and later to uncover the location of the well; among other things Malvado summons the regulator (played by Danny Trejo), whose task is to capture Santanico. Lord Occulto lives in Texas and has several hobbies, one of which is ritual murders; he is the creator of the well. Most of the season revolves around the big job, i.e. hitting the terminal station of the organization, which goal unites almost all of the protagonists: Richie, Seth, their uncle Eddie, Seth’s almost girlfriend Sonja, and Kisa join forces to execute the job, albeit each with their own purpose. Ranger Rodrigues joins them later on, when the focus of the story shifts to the well. This well contains the blood of a thousand of people who were tricked into mass suicide, and is a powerful thing that can tip the balance to the favour of whoever would possess this resource. In the battle for juice a dissimilar team with Richie in the lead (he was officially made a successor to Malvado’s empire) opposes Carlos with his anarchical aspirations.

And this description does not include several other minor characters and storylines. Obviously, the season is a bit of a mess in that respect. In fact, it’s one of its weak points – the story is so tangled and messy, it’s kinda difficult to discern the process of its evolution, let alone describe it. It is, of course, rich with various manifestations of drama and action, – most of it of really good quality – but it also lacks clear structure. But, although I see it as a drawback that somewhat undermines the final result, I don’t think it’s a deal breaker.

Good qualities definitely outbalance the bad ones. The story in general is great, that is – pieces of it taken separately, because, as mentioned above, the way these pieces are arranged (i.e. the structure) leaves much to be desired. But this problem with internal organization does not kick in until later, and a few first episodes are enough to evaluate the quality of other aspects of writing. The characters evolve in a manner consistent with both their internal essence and pre-requisites indicated in season 1. All of them are quite interesting; my favourite is, perhaps, Carlos (played by Valderrama), who is a really compelling villain. The dialogs are very nicely written – they are witty and smart and often funny, and this combination feels refreshing. The new ideas are rather interesting, although some of the are bizarre (especially the one with the well). All in all the story is plausible enough – within the universe of discourse, and keeping in mind the constructive issues.

The execution is highly professional. Special effects are really good. The picture is not too dark, which is often a problem with horrors like this one. The acting is great.

Besides the structure, the problems I detected had to do with weakness and contrivedness of several story turns (which is directly related to the structure issues), and the general ambiguity of the universe. The thing is, we don’t really know the laws it is governed with, we only know certain manifestations. I think, it is maintained intentionally this way, because it gives the writers certain flexibility, and gives the audience such new notions as super abilities each powerful vampire can have (like an additional pair of arms, or wings, or spitting venom), or that going through a labyrinth can give you unexpected powers.

I’m inclined to judge this season in a more positive key: it is way better than the 1st one, most of its components are truly good, and those that aren’t don’t really set the tone.

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Roseanne (s.09, 1996-97)

In the 9th season of Roseanne that became the final one of the original run the story mostly revolves around Roseanne winning the state lottery and dealing with positive and negative effects of the sudden wealth. The season starts, in correspondence with the previous season’s finale, with familial discord. Immediately after that conflict gets resolved the family becomes rich. Dan decides to take better care of his mother and takes off with her to California to consult with the best doctors they have. During his absence Roseanne goes to Golden Chamber spa with Jackie, attends a charity ball in New York, visits some vineyard, travels to Washington, DC, and rescues a train full of hostages on her way, and holds Thanksgiving party. Jackie gets courted by a Moldavian prince, who even takes her to dinner to Manhattan. Beverly comes out of the closet. Leon and his partner decide to adopt a baby. After Dan gets back things suddenly take a different turn. Jackie’s prince marries someone else never to explain himself. DJ’s voice starts to change. Dan makes a very bad decision that nearly ruins the family. In the result of the latter Roseanne falls into deep depression and barely makes it out. She gets invited to the Landford country club, the nucleus of local elite, and meets son of Wellman, the owner of the factory she used to work on. Together they come up with a deal about the factory that should serve the benefit of its workers. DJ meets a girl named Heather, and asks Mark for advice about girls. Roseanne gives Dan the 2nd chance, and the family reconciles. Darlene gets rushed to the hospital and gives birth prematurely, so that the baby barely survives. Beverly finds a girlfriend named Joyce. Jackie gets to wrestle with a professional. Then network and cable compete to make Roseanne’s story. Dan’s mother comes to visit and tries to kill him. Becky gets pregnant. Season’s finale puts all of the above in a very different perspective.

As far as I understand, the 9th season is a sort of bonus one – they were planning to finish after 8th; and so essentially it’s about all the members of crew and cast having fun. Hence a number of implausible episodes, such as the one with hostages on a train (Segal, by the way, made an appearance there). Some of them were good, others – quite shaky, but the overall impression is positive. Later on a drama was attached, which was in part to conceal absence of John Goodman. It not only worked perfectly (one of the best solutions of this issue I’ve seen so far), but elevated the show on a whole new dramatic level. Darlene’s pregnancy development reinforced it even further – even though it was clear from the beginning that the baby cannot die, the intrigue did add tension to the narrative, along with some suspense.

The thing with the lottery winning gave some dubious episodes, but also some pretty great ones – for example, Roseanne meeting Edgar Wellman and the thing with the factory is among them.

Sarah Chalke played Becky ones again instead of Lecy Goranson: on the one hand, it’s a pity, but on the others – she did quite fine, especially considering that neither Becky, nor Darlene, nor David, nor Mark, nor DJ, were present in the story very often. Nancy played a larger part than in couple of previous seasons, which was cool. Leon also increased his presence significantly.

The finale is made as if it was conceived long ago, but it probably wasn’t. Still, this doesn’t undermine the piercing and aching sincerity of its message.

All in all, notwithstanding some questionable decision through-out the season, the closing for the show proved to be pretty good. Now I’m really looking forward to see how Roseanne would wriggle her way out of certain story solutions in the come-back season that is about to be shown. This was an exceptionally significant show, even though it’s not as esteemed now as Friends, for example. In any case, it definitely deserves to be remembered.

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Gracepoint (s.01*, 2014)

Gracepoint is the american remake of the british TV drama Broadchurch. Unlike the original, it survived only for one season. The story repeats that of Broadchurch’s 1st season by 95%. Most of the changes are cosmetic (some names, several insignificant circumstances), plus the finale is appended a twist that is supposed to make it original. David Tennant plays the lead, same as in the british version, but otherwise the cast is completely different.

Gracepoint is a degenerated version of Broadchurch. Everything here is the same, only worse. The rhythm is broken; it seems like everybody is hasting to speak their lines, which is kinda strange, because the american version is all in all an hour longer than the british one.

The transfer of the story onto the american soil was without the feel – because the societies are very similar, the writers didn’t really bother to properly adjust it, which is why it feels just a little off all the time. Also, considering the change of the finale, some things do not add up – but that can be realized only post factum, which means that absence of continuation is actually a good thing in this case. For the writers that is, because it’s rather clear that it’s a good thing for the audience without any conditions.

The selection of actors is not good. Anna Gunn is not nearly as good an actress as Olivia Colman, and the same can be said about most of the substitutions. Tennant plays the same exact part, which feels like a default thing, and correspondingly doesn’t evoke any sensations at all.

The writing is lazy. The scripts repeat those of Chibnall almost word for word, the situations are all the same, yet somehow it doesn’t work here. The final twist in general is plausible enough, but still feels contrived in this particular execution.

The direction is the most rotten element of the composition. Nothing here really works: the actors do not feel their lines; attempts to recreate the peacefulness of the Broadchurch beaches seems pathetic; the narrative lays great claims on the intensity of the drama, but the actual effort to implement it is childish and weak.

Generally speaking, Gracepoint was a giant mistake, an absolutely worthless product. I recommend to avoid it.

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The Millers (s.01, 2013-14)

The Millers is a family sitcom about – take a wild guess – the family of Millers. Nathan Miller is a recently divorced 43 years old newscaster for the local TV channel; his sister Debbie owns a all-green-organic restaurant with her husband Adam (they also have soon-to-be-teenage daughter Mikayla. Debbie’s business is struggling, which is why Nathan constantly helps her out financially. Nathan maintains friendship with his cameraman Ray. The established balance of relationships changes drastically when their parents Carol and Tom move to live with them because their own house got flooded and requires time to be repaired. As soon as the parents learn about Nathan’s divorce, Tom walks out on Carol, looking to find happiness in life. The parents also get divorced eventually, but remain closely related because they both live at their children’s, and actively participate in each other’s lives.

Greg Garcia’s take on the family comedy seems to have all that is needed – compelling, life-like situations, distinct characters, great cast – and yet it’s a failure. I think, there are three reason to that, the combination of which led to cancellation of the show in the middle of its 2nd season (and the fact that episodes from that 2nd season are basically impossible to get).

First is the character of Carol played by Margo Martindale. While the execution of the personality is rather great, the character itself is far from amiable and therefore unpleasant to follow. It’s over-domineering, smothering mother who prevents her children from evolving into full-fledged, independent persons.

The second reason is the humor, which is mediocre at best. Absolute majority of the jokes, situations, gags, etc. are simply not funny.

Finally, the third reason is that the situations presented in the show often cross the plausibility border and become more anecdotic than realistic, and, correspondingly, are perceived as bullshit, even if on the unconscious level. I think, this may be an overcompensation for middling humor, – sadly, it only made things worse.

The result is all the more lamentable because of truly abundant cast – Arnett, Martindale, Mays, Bridges and many others are all truly good actors, and still their collective effort proved to be insufficient to make this show work. Lulu Wilson as Mikayla was pretty good; there were also appearances by Roseanne Barr (who got so slim I recognized her only by her voice), June Squibb and Jeffrey Tambor, – but none of that managed to save the day. And all because of poor writing.

All in all, the show is not worth the time. It simply isn’t good.

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From Dusk till Dawn (s.01, 2014)

From Dusk till Dawn is the action horror drama based on the Robert Rodriguez’s film of the same name. The first season tells a story of the Gecko brothers – a couple of violent criminals on the run from the police. Seth Gecko was just freed from the prison by his brother Richie, then they hit a bank and left it with $30 mil, and now are trying to get to Mexico, where they would be safe. Seth prearranged a deal with Carlos, leader of a powerful mexican gang, who promised them harbor and assistance in exchange for a third of their loot. But on their way to the border they encounter a number of difficulties – first when they meet with a couple of Texas rangers, and have to kill one of them, and later because Richie murders a hostage they’ve been dragging with them since the bank job. Due to the enormous amount of heat they attract by all that activity, the deal with Carlos gets altered, and the brothers are forced to take hostage a family of Jacob Fuller and his two children, Katie and Scott, – because they have a caravan which can be used to cross the border. The whole time Richie experiences weird visions and urges. The Fullers go through a drama of their own: their mother has recently died in an accident, and all of them had a hard time dealing with it, especially in the light of a secret the father keeps from the children. After the resulting company successfully, although not without adventures, crosses the border, they arrive to the bar called “Titty Twister”, where they soon find out that Carlos, Richie’s visions and a number of other seemingly random things are actually tied together in a tangle of ancient mysticism, human sacrifice, and vile entities that live for hundreds of years.

In other words, the plot of the 1st season repeats that of the original movie. All the landmarks are more or less on their places, but there is a number of differences.

First of all, the story is expanded (obviously). All the more or less significant parts of the original story were attached larger context, in most cases in the form of a back story.

Additionally, – and this is, probably, the most interesting part – a completely new event layer got added to the overall story: in this version there is no randomness, everything happens for a reason; and the reason the Gecko brothers ended up in the Titty Twister is because the gang of vampires that is based there has decided to revolt against their masters to acquire freedom, and so they used the Geckos as pawns in their scheme, because there is a prophecy about two brothers that could beat the ancient gods in their game. Correspondingly, there is an accompanying layer of mythology, which is based on pre-christian religious convictions of the native population, who worshiped the 9 dark gods that lived off human sacrifice. Carlos is actually one of the original spanish conquistadors, who got charmed by the evil creature that bears the name Santanico Pandemonium and betrayed his own people to stay with her. Ever since then he stayed around and procured humans for her, and for her masters, to feed with. Santanico chose Richie due to his unusual sensitivity to the subtle, mystical stuff, and Carlos has been helping her to lead him. (They also need the money for some reason.)

Same as in the movie, once the Gecko brothers find themselves in the Twister alongside the Fuller family and a number of other characters, all hell gets loose, and the slaughter commences. Only in this version it is stretched over a longer period of screen time, is not as dense, and is all inspired with mystical bedding. Unlike in the movie, the christian faith has no power of the evil creatures – they can be killed only by a wooden stake in the heart. The season ends exactly the same way the film did, only with another pair of survivors in addition to Seth and Katie, and Carlos as the primary representative of the evil forces. Plus, the whole deal with the ranger (who is the descendant of an ancient bloodline of warriors, and is immune to the bite). Oh, and also there is not a trace of the ballistic humor the film was so loved for. The show is all dry and serious.

On the one hand, watching the show was incredibly boring for the most part, because the story is basically identical to that of the movie, except it’s longer, and the cast is undoubtedly inferior to the original one. It became more interesting when the new additions kicked in, – that is, it became less boring. The whole serious mysticism thing remained from beginning to the end, and, frankly, it’s not exactly fun.

But on the other hand, the new version of the story is rather well-constructed. The idea with the servants’ revolt is a compelling one, and it does generate a lot of action and quite a lot of drama. The cast, although not nearly as great as Tarantino & Hayek and the rest of them, kinda grows on you, plus Madison Davenport is really beautiful. One of the main parts (Carlos) was played by Wilmer Valderrama, who is best known for his role in That ’70s Show. In this project he is totally different, even seems like a different person, really, but he also acts really good.

The overall execution is decent – excessive seriousness harms the result a little bit, but all in all it’s a professional work of cinema. I didn’t really enjoy it (because of the similarities with the original), but I think it may be worth a viewing, especially if you haven’t seen the movie. And also, I’m really curious as to what would be the development of the story, now that the writers are not bound by the pre-existing conditions.

Names and figures

Roseanne (s.08, 1995-96)

In the 8th season of Roseanne the family brings into the world another baby and names him in the honor of Jerry Garcia. Becky and Darling both work at the diner. Dan and Rosie crash a bar mitzvah. The show travels to the 1950s. Family takes a trip to the Disney World and travels first class on the way there. Also, Dan grows a beard (although, not for long); spends some time with DJ; briefly reunites with the band of his youth; puts new linoleum in the kitchen; faces a hard life decision; quits government job; has a heart attack; and talks to god. Becky fights with Darlene; gets a lot of visitors to the trailer; and decides to go to college. DJ takes a photo class; plays a part in the thanksgiving play; makes a business on mice for laboratories; and inherits from a relative more than Roseanne does. Roseanne breaks into a competing restaurant; gives birth on Halloween; takes a trip to a mall with Jackie and experiences a case of road rage on the way back; records a video time capsule for the newborn; plans Leon’s wedding; and gets interviews by Wake-up Chicago TV program, which leads to a long-time gig. Mark cooks for the family; and almost wins at scrabble. Jackie divorces Fred; becomes a bit too competitive when working in the supermarket with Roseanne; gets a computer and immediately becomes addicted; goes ballroom dancing and almost hijacks her mother’s crush. David plans to move out; and gets a job at the amusement park (Edelweiss Gardens). Darlene turns down a high-paying job, which causes a real crisis in the family; gets pregnant and proposes to David; and gets married. After Dan’s heart attack, he cheats on the prescribed diet, which leads to a huge, really serious fight with Roseanne.

The season is pretty great. The quality is more or less consistent through-out the whole thing. Lecy Goranson comes back as the primary Becky, but gets substituted by Sarah Chalke on several occasions (Chalke also pays the family a visit on Halloween as a friendly neighbour). The writers take a notable stand on the human rights issue – in particular, the parody on the 50s sitcoms is especially curious (but there is no Darlene, and it could have been funnier). The gay wedding is quite interesting, as well as the trip to Disney World – this last thing was due to the fact that Disney company bought out the parent TV channel and compelled all the projects to promote Disney; all things considered, the writers of Roseanne weaseled their way out of the situation rather craftily.

The development with Roseanne’s TV gig is pretty great; same goes to the Darlene’s wedding and subsequent Dan’s health issues – that story branch evolves in a logical and consistent fashion, and is rather powerful at that. DJ’s part in the story finally seems adequate to his age. The quality of humor is pretty high – there are ups and downs, of course, but there were no real lapses, and, on the other hand, – quite a few truly great moments.

All in all, the season is give or take on the level of the 7th, which is not bad at all, especially after the disastrous 6th. If the original run would manage to preserve this standard of quality, it would be really great.

Names and figures

Poldark (s.01, 2015)

Poldark is a period drama set in the late 18th century Great Britain. Ross Poldark returns from the Northern America, where he served in the British force in the course of the war for independence. He finds out that his father is dead, that his inheritance – a couple of mines and a house – is in disarray, and that his fiance, thinking that he had perished, coincided with his cousin Francis. Ross starts working hard to make the mines working again, at that he has to start with pretty much no capital, because the local family of bankers, the Warleggans, has a habit of closing down unwanted competition though unjust means. He tries to make it work with his family – uncle Charles, cousin Francis, ex-fiance Catherine, and Francis’s sister Verity. He has very acute sense of justice, and his heart is with the common folk. He meets a plain girl named Demelza, and makes her the mistress of his house. He helps the people working for him as best as he could. To find a way around melting companies’ monopoly he, together with a bunch of other mine-owners, founds a secret melting company, which interests clash with those of Warleggans. The events of the 1st season span over the course of several years.

Unfortunately, this is not a good show. The series has multiple issues dividing into three main categories.

The execution. This is, perhaps, the least significant cause of trouble, for all in all the execution is decent – both the technical side of it, and the creative side, i.e. the acting. There’s probably nothing remarkable about it, but the actors and the crew do the best they could given the circumstances.

The transference / compression. The thing is, this show is a screen adaptation of a series of novels by Winston Graham. Debbie Horsfield, the creator, had to squeeze first two books into the eight hours of the first season, and the way she did it was badly flawed. First issue of this category is with the internal time. Some episodes are stretched for several years, while others cover barely a few months; at that, there are no clear indications of time passing, which makes the development of the narrative really confusing. The second issue is with secondary storylines. The main one tells about Ross’s dealings with the family, with the business ans so on; but there are, of course, others, the main of which is the storyline of Verity, Ross’s cousin, who falls in love with the sea-captain of bad repute. However, Verity’s story is actually more or less fine, because it occupies a rather significant chunk of time. But I can’t say the same about the other ones – the story of the doctor, of the actress, of the stealing friend, and probably some others – they are present in the narrative, but it’s not clear at all why. I mean, they probably were more detailed and more important in the books, but in this particular adaptation they are just as necessary as legs on a snake. They, maybe, contribute a little bit to the characters, but are definitely superfluous for the larger story.

The literary source. These several issues are the worst of all, because unlike those mentioned previously, they cannot be repaired. They are inherited from the books, and as such are very likely to remain for good. The primary problem with the books – at least the way Horsfield sees them – is the primitive duality. On the one hand, this affects the nature of the characters, who, instead of combining benign and malignant tendencies within one given soul, are either inherently good (like Ross, Demelza, Verity, etc.), or inherently bad (like the Warleggans). The only exception to this lamentable rule is Francis, who is inherently weak, but, sadly, that doesn’t make him interesting. On the other hand, the whole entanglement of stories is pierced though by a number of very basic oppositions, such as honest worker vs. blood-sucking banker, law vs. justice, social conventions vs. sincere aspirations, rich vs. poor, and so on. While valid in principle, they betray the lack of fantasy in the author, as well as his shallow understanding of the nature of things.

The remaining issue may be related to the transference, or to the literary source – I wouldn’t know precisely, for I haven’t read the books. This story turns out to be mostly about the relationships between the characters, most of which are of romantic disposition. Thankfully, the abundance of them doesn’t actually make this movie into a melodrama (the quality of execution is too good for that), but it does provides a distorted, glamorized view of reality, which may be pleasant for housewives and teenage school-girls, but reflects poorly on the overall quality of the narration. What bugs me most, though, is the lack of technical details. When I first read the premise in wiki, I thought that same as Hell on Wheels showed the way the railroads were constructed in the 19th century, or Turn showed how the war and the spying was done during the American Revolution, Poldark would show me how they extracted ore from the earth and then processed it in those days. But all they showed was an occasional cave with a chain of people passing heavy stones to each other. There is literally nothing beyond that – no actual extraction, no melting, no accidents, no casualties. And that was hugely disappointing.

All in all, the show fell short of expectations for me. The theme seems to have so much potential, but it was reduced to a primitive, predictable story about a bunch of implausible, phoney characters. Recommended to skip.
Names and figures

Love (s.03, 2018)

In the 3rd and final season of Love Gus works on a Witchita spin-off, and Mickey continues working as a producer on the radio station. Their relationship goes through a number of stages, firming up along the way, and eventually reaching the point of catharsis. Gus conceives and executes a short film in the genre of erotic thriller, which undertaking doesn’t work to the extent he hoped it would, but still provides a tremendous opportunity in the end. Mickey’s grows in her career, and becomes stronger, while dr. Greg gradually looses whatever remnants of his audience were still listening to him. Bertie keeps dating Randy, but grows unhappy with that relationship little by little, and at some point engages in an affair with Chris, who finally takes steps towards his initial (and ultimate) goal.

With this season a portrayal of a beautiful sprout of a hookup that has every chance to develop into a healthy relationship is completed. I think, the overall idea, the message, is pretty simple: a truly vigorous relationship can be distinguished by its ability to drive you into becoming a better version of yourself than you were in the beginning of it. Both cases under scrutiny here – Gus & Mickey on the one hand, and Bertie, Randy and Chris on the other – attest to its validity. Perhaps, the second case especially so, because it shows two distinctly different possibility: Bertie’s relationship with Randy was unhealthy and therefore shut down opportunities for her (maybe for him as well), making them both not very happy, while Bertie’s connection with Chris made both of them strive for more and gave them strength to do so.

Same as before, there was a number of wonderful, fascinating situations and developments over the course of the season. Apart from the aforementioned insight into the purpose of romantic connections, particularly valuable were the depiction of the low-budget filmmaking process, which bares a lot of similarities with that on, for example, russian soil (I suppose, no-money situations resemble each other whatever the geography is), and also the evidence to the importance of honesty and openness shown in the season’s culminating episode with all the Crukshansk.

Considering that the execution is just as superior as it has been from the beginning, the show is not only deep and meaningful, but also highly enjoyable. It definitely is a work of art. Highly recommended.

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Rake (s.04, 2016)

The 4th season of Rake starts at the exact moment in which the 3rd resulted, i.e. the unfortunate balloon flight, undertaken by Cleaver and Barney. The first gets sort of saved by an old acquaintance, while the second takes off and ends up in New Zealand several days later, barely alive. Barney becomes somewhat famous, but is mostly compelled to stick to the fame because of the huge bill raised to him by the government – for the rescue, that is. His cancer went away, but the whole affair also really spoiled his relationship with Nicole. In the meantime Cleaver gets entangled with the Ed Thompson business, with Thompson being a man wanted by the Australian government for many years, who recently returned to visit his sick mother in hospital and got busted. Things get so bad, Cleaver even has to hide for several months, and almost gets murdered, but later it turns to the better. Red tries to make it work with David, but the children just hate him. Wendy gets a little closer to Cleave. Missy gets back from the States really messed up and hooks up with Cal McGregor. Nicole gets back with Bevan, which turns out to be not the best idea. The season is divided in the middle by a genuinely severe tragedy. David almost goes to jail, but gets helped by Cleaver. Barney takes the development very hard. Missy settles in the Wendy’s house, with everybody trying to help her. She eventually grows very close with Fuzz. Cleaver’s sister announces her intention to run for the Senate, and blackmouthes her brother so bad (also getting friendly with Cal at the same time), that out of pure spite he runs against her, with no political program whatsoever. He gets driven to the idea mostly by his desperate situation, when he gets punished way to harshly for saying the truth. Wendy gets back with a crush of her youth, woman named Jack, who’s a political consultant, but that relationship eventually gets out of hand.

By structure the season is closer to the 3rd – it is also a collection of intertwining storylines that develop more or less simultaneously or evolve into each other. In terms of quality, nothing changed much – the show is still a superior work of cinema, to which epithets such as deep, meaningful, rich, funny and powerful are applicable best of all.

The development of the story is just as wild as previously; at the same time, everything is bound by the laws of logic, and seem to stay in harmony of internal consistency through-out the season. The acting is great, as well.

All in all, there’s nothing to criticize here at all. In its own way the show is pretty much perfect.

Names and figures

Roseanne (s.07, 1994-95)

In the 7th season of Roseanne Darlene, while being away in college, breaks up with David and starts dating a guy named Jimmy, which doesn’t last. Eventually there appears a possibility of them reconciling. Becky and Mark live in Roseanne’s house for a while, until they find their own trailer and move out. Jackie and Fred experience troubles with their marriage; Jackie briefly goes out with a guy named Pete – just as a friend, but that turns out enough to drive the couple into marriage counseling, which ultimately doesn’t help. After breaking up with Darlene, David tries to date other girls, and has some sort of fascination with Becky, but that doesn’t lead anywhere. Roseanne gets pregnant and goes through a number of emotional upheavals related to pregnancy. DJ takes part in the upbringing of his cousin, Jackie’s child, and by the end of the season gets his first girlfriend Lisa. Apart from that Dan shaves his armpits; Mark gets sick; David rats Darlene out; has a sex dream about Roseanne; graduates high-school and decides not to go to Europe; Darlene admits taking drugs; moves in with Jimmy; fights with Becky because of David; and gets dumped; Becky doesn’t get enough acting in bed; DJ has a problem with David; cheats Darlene out of her allowance; gets fired from the diner, goes to work for Dan, but soon returns back; beats David; participates in a play; has an erection problem; eats cardboard; goes to Chicago; and resurrects a bee; Roseanne becomes a victim of a Halloween prank; hires Stacey to be a bus-person; and pretends to be sick; Beverly gets busted for DUI and becomes sober; babysits for Jackie; and gives her couch to Roseanne. The season touches upon such issues as racism, abortions, gay people, naturism, and Nielsen ratings. Additionally, a few things deserve a separate mention: the flashback episode, and particularly the TV mothers scene; John Goodman’s audition tape; and the parody on Gilligan’s Island (and reverse).

Thankfully, the dark haze of the 6th season dispersed quickly enough – the 7th season is much better in everything. The storylines are more internally consistent and develop in a more logical fashion. The drama is appropriately intense where necessary, but never too much or out-of-place. The humor all in all is quite good, and some episodes are truly brilliant.

Roseanne was absent for several episodes in the second half of the season because she was actually pregnant and couldn’t attend – this was addressed in a smart and funny way, and some nearly genius things were done to cover up her absence. The bit with all the TV mothers is absolutely remarkable. The episode with the Gilligan’s Island, even though I never watched the show and probably never would, is just as marvellous, and same goes for the continuation, when the actors from that show took places of Roseanne’s cast. There were some smart and relevant references to the OJ trial, the Friends, and Michael Jackson. Sharon Stone, Ellen DeGeneres and Danny Masterson honored the show with their brief appearances.

It’s just like there was no setback at all. In the 7th season the show is perhaps even more powerful and viable than any of the first 5 seasons. I find this ability to move on and build up even more outstanding than the return of the quality. Extremely interesting, and highly recommended.

Names and figures

War & Peace (m/s, 2016)

War & Peace is the BBC adaptation of the Leo Tolstoy’s novel of the same name. The miniseries consisting of 6 episodes follow the lives of Pierre Bezukhov, Andrei Bolkonskiy, Natasha Rostova and others in the turmoil of the Napoleon wars with regards to Russia’s part in the events. It all starts in 1805, when Russia first joins the alliance of european states and marches its army in support of Austria causing a patriotic surge in the ranks of establishment. Many young people, including Andrei Bolkonskiy and Boris Rostov, enlist and then participate in the first battles, including that of Austerlitz. Pierre Bezukhov becomes the only heir to the vast estate of his father – much to his own surprise, because he was count’s illegitimate son and didn’t expect anything. Subsequent whirl of events is rather rich and follows more or less the narrative lines of the novel; it includes such storyturns as Pierre’s marriage going to shambles; him joining freemasons; Bolkonskiy meeting Natasha Rostova and falling in love with her; Natasha’s surge of incenity related to the figure of Anatol Kuragin, a dark and infamous person; Napoleon’s invasion on the russian soil in 1812, the battle of Borodino, and following capture of Moscow; a lot of deaths arising both from the military action and from the collateral stuff; financial difficulties of the Rostov family; and a lot of love affairs.

There are some truly strong components to this particular adaptation, namely: the cast is rather brilliant, and all the acting is quite amazing, too, plus the dancing and social banquets in general are very nicely done, and the depiction of warfare is not half bad.

But, unfortunately, that’s not enough for this film to be a good one. The authenticity of the narrative is highly questionable. Although the creators follow the novel quite rigorously in that respect, it is obvious – for me anyway – that they severely lack broader knowledge of the country, the culture and the history, which results in the absence of that elusive essence that can be captured only after long and intensive presence in the corresponding environment. Even though Davies and Harper treat the literary source with respect and caution, their efforts are still alien, and there’s probably nothing that could have been done about it. On the surface this sad situation manifests itself through exaggerations (mostly of cultural pattern) and pathetic attempts to use russian language – which is especially painful to hear when they try to sing or use shortened russian names.

But worse than problems with authenticity is that it would seem like the whole content of the Tolstoy’s novel is reduced to romantic connections and love sufferings, interspersed with occasional military action. Now, I’m not a big specialist on War and Peace, I’m not even a fan of the work, but I do remember that there was more to it than this melodramatic bullshit. (And it does degrade to the level of melodrama from time to time – mostly due to the lack of development space and corresponding hiccups with emotions evolving at the correct pace.) But all the philosophy and whatever else there is is cut away to make room for what makes the hearts of housewives beat faster. And not even wonderful acting can save the day – at least not for this series to be considered a work of art it can’t.

So, notwithstanding all the great things in this adaptation, all in all it’s not very good. Alas.

Names and figures

Superstore (s.02, 2016-17)

The 2nd season of Superstore is twice as long as the first one, and unlike it has several more or less consistent storylines that evolve over its course. The first of them, and probably the least interesting, has to do with the chemistry between Jonah and Amy – their relationship has some development, but even though it culminates with a kiss, overall it’s extremely slow. The second is about co-workers with benefits, i.e. a relationship between Dina and Garrett. Finally, the third is about Mateo and his relationship with Jeff, the regional manager. This last one is, perhaps, the most exciting, because it involves some amount of drama, and not the gay-theatrical kind, but a genuine one. Couple of episodes in the beginning are dedicated to the strike, i.e. the transition between the seasons. Other than that, the employees of Cloud 9 get engaged in such activities, as the Olympics ceremony, birds inside the premises, the store mascot turning out to be a serial killer, drug testing, dogs adoption day, elections day, seasonal help, black friday and food poisoning, rebranding, malfunction of the air-conditioning system, the great spill, issue with the warehouse crew, fumigation, and spring cleaning. Dina tries to make people like her; and searches for stolen fruit. Glenn has an issue with morning after pill; hurts Cheyenne’s eye; deals with an internet troll; brings his foster children to work; hires Boe; and has to lay off 10% of the staff. Marcus loses a thumb; and becomes in charge of the warehouse. Jonah has issues with guns; takes a political stand; starts dating Naomi; meets his old pal from the business school and quits college altogether; breaks up with Naomi; goes undercover; meets Amy’s parents and buys a picture of Putin; and starts dating Glenn’s foster daughter. Sandra goes along with the story about her dating Jeff; and later finds a real boyfriend. Amy dares Jonah; starts family counseling; doesn’t want to be pregnant again; gets a lady’s lunch; gets a new hairstyle; skips work; uses a truck for her personal needs; and loses Bobby Sue somewhere in the store. Cheyenne saves money for the wedding; finds their own place with Boe; and finally has a wedding. Mateo discovers that he is an illegal alien; almost transfers to a different store; and has to break up with Jeff. In the finale the store almost gets ruined by the tornado.

Thanks to the consistent storylines the show becomes gradually more and more watchable. Fortunate conjunction of circumstances in the Mateo-Jeff line led to unexpectedly serious, even deep drama, which also helps to highlight the generally positive disposition of the show.

The humor is approximately the same level of mediocre: there’s quite a lot of amusing situations and jokes, some of them are funny, but all in all it’s middling.

The acting, as well as the execution, is good enough.

Generally speaking, there’s nothing truly brilliant about the show – it’s okay to kill some time, but hardly more than that. With one exception – the finale of the season shows almost complete destruction of the store by a tornado, and it was actually really fun. Coupled with the laying-off issue, it amounted to a rather exciting development, which is probably the reason I would try and watch season 3 when it’s finished.

Names and figures

Rake (s.03, 2014)

In the 3rd season of Rake the narrative takes yet another shape as compared to any of the previous seasons. Now it amounts to a number of fluent storylines (and not geometrical figures, like before) that evolve over the course of the show, influencing and amplifying one another. Cleaver is confined to prison in the beginning of the season, and, having spent almost a year behind bars, dreams of a successful appeal. It becomes possible, when the prison community is joined by a disgraced judge, who has some information on his colleagues, including those of them, who would be presiding on the Cleaver’s case. While in jail Cleave has to deal with Georgy Corrella, who basically runs everything inside, as well as Cal McGregor, and Kirsty’s right-hand man Col. He also meets a guy named Malcolm, who dreams of singing. After the release Cleaver works hard to regain his place in the changed circumstances. Red, having worked for some time as a barrister, makes it to silk. Barney gets diagnosed with cancer, and has a hard time dealing with it. The two of them form an unstable alliance with Nicole, who also starts working as Red’s assistant (and lives in Cleave’s apartment). Melissa oversees her book being made into a movie, and starts a novel. Red aspirs to be with David, but doesn’t allow herself to do it because of Barney’s illness. David remains the last man standing in his party, and manages to gain a decent reputation as a politician. Wendy almost marries Roger; Fuzz goes to Africa with his wife-to-be, but returns prematurely without her, but with a wife of Congolese minister and a load of blood diamonds, for which he almost goes to prison. In parallel, Cal McGregor becomes a TV host after his release, due to his partnership with Tikki Whendon, one of the Australia’s richest woman and a ruthless schemer, whose primary aspiration in the season was to build a casino. As an anchor Cal gains power he never though he could have; but later his interests dispersed from those of Tikki. As one of season’s primary Clever’s cases, he defends a friend of Tikki’s stepson, who gets falsely accused of insider trading (or something), and during those proceedings the Tikki-Cal conflict achieves its peak. Cleaver also defends a mother who committed an insurance fraud by claiming that her children are sick with cancer; and a catholic priest, an old pal of his, who concealed his brother’s involvement in cases of pedophilia. Soon after his release from prison Cleave meets Malcolm’s sister named Felicity, and after a lot of effort manages to win her over.

On the one hand, the season has a more traditional layout, but on the other – the ability of the writers to adapt and change is astonishing, because it’s different every time, and every time it works like a charm. The overall development of the story is internally consistent, boisterous and interesting to follow. Every single story told over the course of the season is worth seeing; many of them add a significant component of drama into the narrative (which adds a lot of depth); others add no less significant component of action. And, as usual, everything is pierced with signature Rake humor, which is just as impressive as before.

The new characters are all rather great; Felicity is just as gorgeous as all the other women in Cleaver’s life. The acting is wonderful, as well as the execution in general. All in all, the quality of the show remains extremely high in all the major components, thus summing up to an extraordinary, perhaps, even outstanding series.

Names and figures

Roseanne (s.06, 1993-94)

In the 6th season of Roseanne Darlene goes to another city to study in college, where she rents an apartment; over the course of the season she repeatedly visits her parents’ house; goes through a conflicting stage in her relationship with David; and doesn’t want to have kids. Roseanne contemplates the idea of having another child, but then changes her mind; smokes pot with Dan and Jackie; throws baby shower for Jackie; lands money to Mark for him to continue education; learns about networking; brings David home; goes to the gay bar and gets hit on; and gets a stove for free. Dan works as a foreman in the city service with a number of men under him, including Fred; likes Nancy; breaks his nose; has a talk with DJ about masturbation; goes to lunch with Phillis; has a reunion party; doesn’t want to hire Mark; throws David out of the house; admits his mother to a mental hospital; and learns the truth about the past of his family. Jackie goes on a date with Fred; has a house-warming party; gets pregnant; learns how to lie better; avoids Fred as best as she could; gets sued for custody of the child; finally gets together with Fred; finds out about her real name; gives birth to a boy; overcomes Fred’s concerns about her past; almost gets proposed to; gets married. Beverly gets pushed by her daughters to the status of silent partner, and later sells her share to Leon; and gets hurt while having sex. DJ flanks school and even gets closer to Darlene on that ground; steals car; starts helping in the restaurant; attends ballet; blackmails Darlene out of her savings; has a sex talk with Darlene; and starts going to church. David gets caught hiding pot in the house; goes as if to Michigan to live with his mother, but really to live with Darlene; slaves to Roseanne after coming back; comes live with Jackie; returns back; and turns out to be sexist. Becky returns reincarnated (in the body of Sarah Chalke) and moves back in her parents’ house, together with Mark; and starts working as a waitress in a night club. Mark loses his job; manages to get hired by Dan; gets expelled from college; fights with the family and moves out; and moves back in. Leon buys out Beverly; later he starts working to undermine Roseanne and maybe even push her out.

A series of poorly thought-through, chaotic story solutions made Roseanne into a complete mess. There are still some instances of quality humor through-out the season, but the logic of development, the characters’ motivation, the condition of drama – these very important aspects leave much to be desired.

Nancy is pushed to the sidelines and also made to look rather superficial and plain stupid at times. Mark, who previously produces an impression of a person who may not be book-smart, but is good with his hands and overall quite decent, is not a downright stupid looser. Jackie in her relationship with Fred (early stages) acted so utterly unreasonable, it was painful to watch. The same thing with Dan on 2 different occasions – in the matter with his father, and in the matter with David. It was astonishingly bad writing for it brought the show closer to melodrama. David is made into a total whimp, which he wasn’t before. New version of Becky is not nearly as good as the old one (even with ironic attitude to the fact of the change).

To the habitual kind of comedy there added another one – parody: on several occasions different shows (mostly soaps) were slightly mocked, and I can’t say that it was bad or good, but the mere fact that the writers resorted to the lower styles confirms for me that there was a crisis in the story department.

Some minor characters, such as Crystal, Anne-Marie, and some others, disappear from the story for no particular reason. Admittedly, Crystal appeared in a couple of scenes, but that was kinda sad.

Like I said, there’s still quite a lot of great stuff – the chemistry between the characters was pretty much preserved; some of the episodes were particularly good (although, none of them was wonderful); the humor was mostly okay and sometimes rather great.

But the season still upset me more than amused. I find this tendency quite troubling.

Names and figures

Shameless (s.08, 2017-18)

In the 8th season of Shameless Frank abandons his faulty ways after smoking his share of the meth, finds an honest job, sincerely tries to participate in the Liam’s upbringing, and acquires all the traits of a model citizen. Unfortunately, due to objective circumstances, this streak doesn’t last long: being unable to continue with the straight life, he gradually shifts back to his old practices – illegally moves some immigrants across border with Canada, then tries to take advantage of previously stolen social security cards, and ends up attempting a burglary. Liam continues to attend the private school, where he serves as showpiece, but also finds some friends. Even Frank’s activities couldn’t mess up his judgement and ruin his chances. Fiona is mostly engaged with her property: she meets her tenants, becomes friends with some of them (Nessa), removes several others and finds new ones; orders roof re-tiled, which results in one of the workers hurting himself, which in its turn results is a squatter problem and troublesome lawsuit. She survives the return of Sean, her wanna-be fiance, and meets a new guy named Ford, who really likes his wood and architecture. Lip continues his struggle with alcoholism: he works in the motorshop alongside his AA sponsor Brad, tries to help professor Youens, but is unable to push through his self-destructiveness, then Brand, after he flies off the handle; he tries to get back with Sierra, until eventually realizes that maybe it’s not what he wants; he becomes friends with Eddie, a girl from the same workshop, and meets the kid girl of her sister Xan. Carl is keeping himself ready for the military school; looses his tuition, and then works hard to get the money to continue education, for which purpose starts helping junkies to get clean for money, and this is how he meets Kassidi, with whom he falls in love. That relationship threatens his commitment to the army, and so in the end he has to choose. Debbie goes to the welding school and works at the underground parking, while trying to raise Franny and lead active social life at the same time. She almost gets pregnant again, gets dumped by her boyfriend, starts working non-union jobs because the money is too got, and eventually regrets it. Ian continues working as a paramedic, and works hard to get back with Trevor; while doing so, he gets really involved with helping the homeless kids, at which point his interests clash with Fiona’s, and they have a brief falling out; he then shifts to rescuing gay kids, whom their parents try to ‘correct’; he crashes the services of homophobic pastors and eventually starts a bright new thing called the Church of Gay Jesus. Veronica and Kevin fight Svetlana at first for the Alibi, and even manage to throw her to jail, but then they come to terms, and their thruple relationship gets resumed for some time, until V finds out that what really drives her is dominance, after which Kevin embraces the role of the master. The owner of meth shows up at some point, but the conflict gets resolved through joint effort rather easily.

Evidently, the season is pretty packed with events of all kinds – admittedly, as always. The narrative is composed of more or less independent storylines that intertwine with each other and influence each other, but still preserve self-sustainability, and quite real at that. Which, perhaps, is the only thing I can complain about – seems like there’s some stratification going on, and though it doesn’t affect the quality of the show so far, in the future it might – as we know, there’s gonna be at least one more season.

But the drama is quite intense, and without a hint of falsity. There are some rather dark outcomes, as well as good ones – all in all the balance is straight. The acting, as well as all the sides of execution, is expectedly great. I suppose, this is a little miracle of its own; after all, it’s been 8 years, maybe even more than that, and the quality is still top-notch.

Same as before, it’s incredibly captivating, interesting from beginning to end, and also emotionally fulfilling. All round a great series, what can I say.

Names and figures

Superstore (s.01, 2015-16)

Superstore is a comedy about the crew working in one of the giant supermarkets of (fictional) Cloud 9 network. The main characters in the 1st season are: Glen, the manager with forever cheerful disposition; Amy, who worked in the store for 10 years and is now trying to graduate from college; Dina, assistant manager, tough and by-the-book kind of gal; Jonah, a handsome newcomer, who dropped off the business school; Mateo, another newcomer, a Philippine gay; Cheyenne, a pregnant high-school girl, and her boyfriend and later fiance Boe, as well as several other employees. The show depicts everyday activity of the store. Stories of the 1st season include the one about corporate magazine and jingles competition; the one about salsa; the one about Jonah mannequin and possible adoption; the one about dead guy, a shoplifter, and Amy’s daughter’s 1st time period; the one about secret shopper and forklift; the one about color wars; the one about Cheyenne’s wedding; the one where everybody’s locked in; the one about assistant’s manager position; and the one about paid maternity leave. Only a couple of lines are more or less consistent through-out the season, specifically, the Jonah’s courting Amy, and Dina courting Jonah. The season ends with a general strike.

There were some funny things during the season, but, sadly, only a few. The general tendency is that the Superstore stories are trivial and common, with a distinct note of didacticism. The humor is mediocre. The characters are average – none of them is bright and interesting enough to be an attractor of its own.

It’s a middling show so far. I think, I would still watch the 2nd season, but if the level there is the same as in the 1st, that would be it.

Names and figures

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