A few quick words on the premiere of “The Twilight Zone” (2019)

If the premiere is any indication, then Jordan Peele’s relaunch of “The Twilight Zone” (2019) looks to be quite decent.  It’s got Peele’s fingerprints all over it (he even serves as the narrator here), and that’s a very good thing.  I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

This first episode, written by Alex Rubens and directed by Owen Harris, channels the same muse as Peele did with his outstanding “Get Out” (2017) — it’s got clever characters, snappy dialogue and gravely dark humor.  I suppose it’s impossible to gauge the quality of an anthology show by its initial episode, but I’m on board.

And one of the upcoming episodes is penned by Glen Morgan, of “The X-Files” fame.  I’d say that’s an auspicious sign too.

 

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A short review of the Season 2 premiere of “The Exorcist”

I watched the first episode of Season 2 of “The Exorcist” series (2016), and I’m happy to report it was a fun, scary start.  (The season began this past September; its ten-episode arc concluded at the end of the year.)  I’d rate the premiere a 9 out of 10, and I’m on board for another demonic outing.

Alfonso Herrera and Ben Daniels return as a kind of dynamic duo of protagonist priests — all the more so because they appear to be on the run from a Roman Catholic Church that no longer sanctions their heroics.  (The show is actually well written, and this isn’t as stupid as I just made it sound.)  Herrera and Daniels are both terrific, even if an opening action chase scene reintroducing them here was unintentionally funny.  (They’re absconding by pickup truck with a possessed woman — her gun-toting country family, who is unaware of their intentions, is in pursuit.  I kept thinking this was a like a sequel to 1990’s “Nuns on the Run.”)

Herrera’s character feels a bit more interesting this time out.  Six months on the lam as exorcist-knight-errant has made him grim and unexpectedly arrogant — his darker character is more fun to watch than the slightly cloying, pretty-boy apprentice we sometimes saw in Season 1.

There are more things that make Season 2 seem promising, too.  It looks as though the afflicted woman that we see (nicely played by Zibby Allen) drives only this season’s prologue.  The demon antagonist has its sights set on a foster home staffed by a likable altruistic Dad (John Cho) and his equally likable five charges.  (One of them is Brianna Hildebrand, who comic fans might recognize as Negasonic Teenage Warhead from 2016’s “Deadpool.”  Is she here after being thrown out of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters?)

This was fun.  I’m looking forward to the rest of the story.

 

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A few quick words on the premiere of “The Defenders” (2017)

I certainly wasn’t as thrilled with the premiere of Marvel’s “The Defenders” (2017) as I thought I’d be.  I’d somewhat grudgingly rate it a 7 out of 10.

The show’s first episode suffers a bit from an inescapable challenge — how to satisfy the fanbase for each of four superhero characters who have had their own shows.  I’d honestly say that this show so far interests me about 50 percent of the time — I love Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but I don’t much care about Luke Cage or Iron Fist.  Complicating things further is the show’s need to logically tie together all of their respective storylines, while arousing interest in a new overall story for this nascent ensemble team.  (It … looks a lot like Daredevil’s story from both the second season of the Netflix series and the original comics.)

I’m optimistic I’ll enjoy it more as I catch the rest of the series.  Marvel properties almost always have good writers.  And the large cast here (including none other than Sigourney Weaver) is uniformly excellent.

 

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A very short review of “The Walking Dead” Season 8 premiere

My enjoyment of “The Walking Dead” has waned sufficiently to make me wonder whether I should still call myself a fan of the show; it was sometime during Season 6 when I really began watching simply to see if it would get better.  With that said, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy last night’s premiere of Season 8.

I’d rate it an 8 out of 10 for its creators’ wise reliance on fan service to salvage a weary narrative.  They were successful enough to make me enjoy the episode, which was quite generous with action and special effects, including the show’s state-of-the-art zombie effects.

If you squint just a little, you can still see that “The Walking Dead” is worn at the seams.  This just isn’t a program that does dialogue or character development very well.  Dear God, am I sick of the saccharine pep talks among Maggie, Rick and Jesus.  It’s like a bowlderized menage a trois scripted by Hallmark card writers, in which everyone is masturbating one another verbally and metaphorically instead of literally.  (Strangely enough, though, the show does just fine scripting and characterizing its villains.  Negan and his henchman — including the traitorous Eugene — all seem to have distinct voices, are interesting to watch, and are well portrayed by their actors.)

There were plotting and logistical problems too … it seems to me that our heroes had ample opportunity to finally shoot Negan (in a story conclusion that we should have seen ages ago), yet inexplicably chose to expend countless rounds at his building’s windows.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the episode, though.  There was a lot of childish fun to be had with the explosions, armored vehicles, and grotesque zombies, not to mention the long overdue emotional payoff of watching Rick and company finally take the fight to Negan.  If you used to love this show and want to love it again, the premiere will at least give you a little hope.

 

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A very short review of the Season 7 premiere of “American Horror Story” (2017)

I finally got around to watching my first episode of “American Horror Story” last night; I started with this season’s critically praised premiere.  (People have been enthusiastically recommending this show to me for years, and “Game of Thrones” taught me that the bandwagon isn’t always a bad thing.)

I can’t say that I was overly impressed.  Season 7’s opening episode, entitled “Election Night,” consists mostly of heavy-handed political commentary with caricaturized portrayals of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton supporters.  Nearly none of the characters are likable; not even the one played by the terrific Evan Peters.  (Yes, comics fans, that’s none other than Quicksilver from the latest “X-Men” movies.)

There is a lot of “scary clown” horror here, as anyone who’s seen any marketing for the show at all should know.  Between that and the political elements, I suspect I am not the right audience for this show.  I simply find clowns obnoxious instead of scary, and political commentary in horror usually falls flat with me.  (I’m the rare horror fan who loves George A. Romero’s work only because it’s scary, without caring much about the social statements he’s supposedly making.)

With all of that said, there actually were a couple of creepy moments late in the game.  And there was one (as of yet, minor) character that I liked — the child of the liberal couple who were so devastated by the election results.  He’s cute, and any kid who hides parentally forbidden horror comics under his pillow is one of my tribe.

I’d somewhat grudgingly rate this a 5 out of 10.

Anyway … scary clowns are ubiquitous now, and we already have the zombie shows we need.  I propose that we bring back … body snatchers.  Those can be terrifying in the hands of a talented writer, and they require no special effects.  Or, what about vampires?  Now that “The Strain” has concluded, how about a well written television excursion into Steve Niles’ “30 Days of Night” universe?  Or maybe a “Stakeland” TV show?  Looking at you, AMC.

 

 

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A short review of the Season 4 premiere of “The Strain”

[THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR PAST SEASONS OF “THE STRAIN.”]  I love “The Strain.”  It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s usually creepy, and the screenwriters seem to want to throw in everything but the kitchen sink in order to please horror fans.  It’s also the most ambitious horror show on television — it endeavors to depict nothing short of an entire vampire apocalypse, from its inception back in Season 1 to what appears to be a complete victory by the monsters at the start of its fourth (and apparently final) season.  Only the outstanding “Fear the Walking Dead” has attempted something like that.  And although “Fear” is the better show, it can’t match “The Strain’s” epic storytelling goals and its level of detail.

The writers’ energetic efforts almost always pay off.  Part of “The Strain’s” appeal is that you never know how far they’ll go.  And they do push the envelope so creatively that they sometimes hit upon ideas and story points that are grotesque and darkly creative.  I’m still enjoying this show even after I predicted back in Season 1 that the plot-driving creatures themselves would grow boring after our repeated exposure to them.  (I’m happy to be proven wrong.)

Regrettably, the Season 4 premiere suggests that the writers are now reaching too far, too fast.  It continued the show’s pattern of brave creative choices, but it was sloppy.  There were enormous changes in story and setting with insufficient exposition.  We jump nine months forward from the close of last season, when a nuclear explosion devastates New York, and our heroes are scattered.  We’re offered little information about how our protagonists arrived at their respective new junctures, and that is forgivable.  (It’s a convention of serialized storytelling like this that things can be explained in subsequent episodes.)  But the enormous changes in the overall milieu left me a little confused.

Following the nuclear conquest of New York last season, why would Philadelphia and other cities also be ruled by the vampires?  I understand that the nuclear winter is to blame for this, because the bad guys can move about by day.  But would a single bomb cause a sufficient nuclear winter to affect the entire Eastern Seaboard?  (Yes, I am aware that I am illustrating my ignorance of this subject.)

Or … is it the entire continent that’s affected, or the entire northern hemisphere?  Have other cities been bombed or not?  Why are the vampires seeking out more nuclear devices?  (We are given confusing information about these things through new story elements and dialogue.)  Furthermore, why is Vasiliy Fet (the likable Kevin Durand) trying get his hands on a nuke on behalf of the human resistance?  Is he planning on nuking an entire city, with both vampires and their human slaves?  If he neutralizes “The Master” in the remains of New York City, will it be worth it?

These are important plot and story elements that left me scratching my head.  What’s more, the season opener was further marred by some pretty spotty scripting and direction.  (The action sequence at the end was poorly done.)

The episode was still fun enough.  I’d rate it a 7 out of 10.  I’m just surprised that an episode that seems so hastily developed served as the season’s opener.

 

A few quick words on the “Game of Thrones” Season 7 premiere.

The premiere of Season 7 of “Game of Thrones” was damned good … enough for me to give it a 9 out of 10.  (You know you’re enjoying a TV show when you are riveted to the screen.)

The dialogue and character development for this show is always first-rate, and the acting often is.  Last night was no exception — the exchange between Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), for example, was priceless.

The glimpse of The Night King’s wight army, however brief, should please any horror fan.  I watch a lot of horror movies, and I’m a tough fan to please.  Yet I am still surprised at how this fantasy show continues to succeed in scaring me.  It’s impressive.  If the leaked script for Season 7 is accurate, then the bad guys in the final episode ought to be damned frightening.

I will reiterate a very minor longstanding quibble that I have had with “Game of Thrones” as someone who has not read the books.  This story seems to attach tremendous dramatic emphasis to the movement and arrival of groups of people.  I do understand the need for this, and its appeal — the logistics are part of George R.R. Martin’s world-building, and they bring detail and a sense of realism.  There are times, however, when I feel like Daenerys’ defining character trait is that she … goes places.  (Look!  Now her army is here!)

I won’t say much more for fear of spoilers — this is a show where even mentioning a character’s name can suggest a chapter in his or her character arc.  (I will say that I loved the opening segment, even if I was understandably puzzled at first.)

This is great TV.