Tag Archives: Season 1

“You call her Doctor JONES, Doll!”

God damn, Netflix’ “Jessica Jones” (2015) looks like a great show.  I finally got around to watching the complete pilot episode, due to my interest in the upcoming “The Defenders,” which features the character.  And “Jessica Jones” was frikkin’ terrific.  I’d rate the first episode a 9 out of 10.

At first, there were aspects of the pilot that annoyed me.  We’re told virtually nothing about the origin of the title character’s superpowers, and not much about the powers themselves.  They’re also a fairly generic power set, as far as I can tell.  She has enhanced strength and agility and … that’s it?  So she’s a low-grade Superman or Spider-Man, more or less?  We also learn somewhat little about what looks to be the series, antagonist, Kilgrave, played by David Tennant.  We see Kilgrave only briefly, in flashbacks that seem reminiscent of post-traumatic stress disorder.  (These are sometimes weirdly delivered, for a show that is otherwise well directed.)  He has mind-control abilities that resemble the “push” ability seen in Stephen King’s “Firestarter,” as well as my favorite short story of all time, “Everything’s Eventual.”

But … hell, this was just an extremely good show.  For starters, Krysten Ritter is perfect as the wisecracking anti-heroine.  She’s funny; she’s got great, dry line delivery; and she’s a decent actress.  (I know that the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s more powerful heroes rarely visit Hell’s Kitchen, but I’d love to see her trade quips one day with Tony Stark.  She couldn’t beat him, but she’d come closer than anyone else.)

The script is good enough to make her a likable character, and the story itself is scary and compelling.  Considering the plot-driving capability of the show’s villain this … looks like it could become a King-style horror thriller.  Between this show and “Daredevil’s” bloody second season (2016), I’m starting to understand that Hell’s Kitchen might be the MCU’s stage for more horror-type stories.  And I’m fine with that.

 

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Season 1 of “Westworld” was fantastic.

The premise for HBO’s “Westworld” sounds like a bad situation comedy — robot cowboys entertain the rich at a futuristic theme park.  There are showdowns and shootouts, and hilarity ensues when the guests fall in love with the coy robot ladies.

But “Westworld” is an arguably brilliant serial science fiction thriller, far transcending its gimmicky central plot contrivance.  It is occasionally weighted down by some challenges with pacing, story structure and exposition.  But I still loved it enough to get hooked on it immediately, and I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

I think it’s the smartest science fiction show I’ve seen in a long time.  Its brilliance doesn’t stem from its kitsch premise.  (I haven’t seen the original 1973 film based on Michael Crichton’s screenplay, but I’ve seen it lampooned at least once.)  It generally doesn’t extend from the show’s many twists and surprises, however well executed they are.  Nor does it stem from the show’s ambitious discussions of the nature of consciousness.

Its brilliance, in my opinion, stems from its nuanced and surprisingly disturbing depiction of human evil.  Of course there’s the obvious — the theme park exposes human depravity by allowing people to rob, rape and murder lifelike human surrogates with impunity.  But there is far more that the show has to say.  To get a sense of it, you have to watch the entire 10-episode season, and see several key character arcs reach completion.  One of these arcs was so dark and cruelly contemplative that it’s stayed with me long after I watched the final episode.

The show is well made at every level.  It’s gorgeously shot, at locations throughout California, Utah and Arizona.  The special effects are great.  Anthony Hopkins is characteristically perfect as the park’s patriarch, and Jeffrey Wright is terrific as his well meaning right hand.  (That actor is starting to grow on me.)  The entire cast is quite good — even those in relatively minor roles, like the two hapless technicians (nicely portrayed by Leonardo Nam and Ptolemy Slocum) who become entangled in the events connected with the park’s malfunctions.

Ed Harris, however, consistently steals the show as “the Man in Black,” a park guest who vacations as a brutal rapist and murderer (and who we learn has another agenda, as well).  He’s chilling.  I never really saw Harris as an amazing actor before, despite seeing him in many roles, including his memorable turn in “A Beautiful Mind” (2001).  But he was incredible here.

I wanted to give this show a perfect 10, but even someone who loves it as much as I do can see the weaknesses of this first season.  Overall, “Westworld” is sometimes too drawn out.  I feel the plot moves forward rather slowly, and I think Season 1 would be perfect if only it were carefully edited down from ten to maybe seven episodes.  I found myself getting a little frustrated by the the fifth episode, when we see two major characters follow arcs that seem redundant.  (I’m being intentionally vague here to avoid spoilers.)

The problem is compounded by the deliberately superficial nature of “Westworld’s” setting.  This is a theme park with stereotypical stock characters associated with Hollywood westerns.  Accordingly, its inhabitants have overly stylized speech and behavior.  Furthermore, these androids are programmed to follow the same “loops” repeatedly, as the same preconceived story “narratives” are reused to entertain new patrons of the park.

It gets annoying.  Yes, I know it makes perfect sense and is necessary in the context of the story.  But it can be grating to someone who tunes in to see a science fiction show, and not a cheesy western.  James Marsden is a decent enough actor, and he’s well cast as “Westworld’s” prototypical “good guy” cowboy.  But seeing this character’s shtick over and over was irritating.  So, too, were the sassy ladies at the brothel and some other minor characters.

Finally, I suggest that, for some viewers, “Westworld” may be hard to follow.  I occasionally found it that way.  There are twists that are wonderfully well crafted, gradually deciphered mysteries, and a very layered backstory.  Finally, the show’s discussions of things like consciousness, morality and artificial intelligence can sometimes border on the didactic.  (It helps a hell of a lot, though, when the actor delivering the exposition is the priceless Hopkins.)  It’s a lot to take in.  People tuning in should be prepared for some challenging, cerebral science fiction instead of easily digested, escapist fantasy.

All in all, this show was superb.  If you’re a science fiction fan, you need to at least give it a try.

Unnecessary postscript: actor Jimmi Simpson sure looks a hell of a lot like a young Christian Slater.

 

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A review of “Game of Thrones,” Season 1

I liked Season 1 of “Game of Thrones;” I really did.  I don’t yet love the show in the same way that so many other people do, however, and I’d honestly rate this 10-episode season an 8 out of 10.  If that sounds like faint praise for a show that seems universally loved, I concede that my criticisms really reflect my own personal tastes, not to mention my admittedly narrow attention span.

It’s an undeniably well made show, in terms of everything from acting to set design.  Its densely plotted story (with so many characters!) suggests to me that it is probably true to George R. R. Martin’s books, which I have not read.  The show seems like an authentic adaptation that respects the viewer’s intelligence and consequently demands a lot of him or her.

There is a lot to admire, such as the show’s attention to a myriad of details in order to meticulously render Martin’s fantasy universe.  Peter Dinklage is consistently wonderful to watch as Tyrion Lannister.  Aidan Gillen and Conleth Hill are both downright Shakespearian as Littlefinger and Varys, the two duplicitous members of the Court at King’s Landing.  Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Charles Dance (Tywin Lannister) and Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) are also all favorites of mine.  (Glen is none other than the “Resident Evil” films’ original Wesker!  And he has such a damn cool voice.)

The script, direction and production values all usually seem quite good.  The show even has moments of brilliance — the first episode’s opening teaser, in which we witness an attack on the border wall by the icy “White Walker” monsters, was scarier than a hell of a lot of horror movies I’ve seen.

Which brings us to my frustrations, and, yes, they are mostly subjective.  I actually did bring certain appetites as an audience member that weren’t met.   I craved more action, and greater emotional payoff for the dialogue-heavy story arcs that built tension throughout the first season.  (Caveat: I am a fan of both horror movies and war films, and I suspect I’m not exactly the target audience for what is essentially a political thriller in a fantasy context.)

The inaugural episode’s White Walkers were what I was dying to see the most.  And I do think they should have been featured more prominently, from a storytelling perspective.  Otherwise they shouldn’t have served as the teaser-opener for the entire season.  Nor should they have been the plot driver for the storylines connected with the Wall and The Night’s Watch.

We also see extensive preparations for war, and military maneuvering — we even have important scenes taking place at troop encampments.  But there is absolutely no climax for these steadily building plot developments.  I know I sound like a 13 year old, and maybe I am just not sophisticated enough to enjoy the show on its current levels, but I wanted see a battle.  From a storytelling perspective, I suggest it’s a bad creative decision to end the season without allowing us to truly witness a major land engagement.  I do realize that we indeed see one house’s brutal invasion of another’s castle, and that it’s well done.  But it was too brief.  Again, while “Game of Thrones” has all the trappings of a period war series, this is a political thriller in a fantasy context.

As for the Machiavellian politics, I am embarrassed to admit that I got lost early on.  Yes, I’m fully aware that others are able to follow these plot threads quite easily.  (My college chums can.)  I’d just advise another viewer of average intelligence that their enjoyment might be affected by an unusually detailed story that requires their strict attention.

Finally, I do feel that there is a dearth of likeable and identifiable characters.  Nearly every major player is motivated by an ignoble goal (power).  Many betray one another; that’s the show’s favorite plot point.  Sean Bean’s Eddard Stark is only a putative hero, to me.  Yes, he’s fighting for the rightful heir to the throne, but he’s still serving a monarchy; he’s not sticking up for the common man or anything.  (We see loyalty among various characters to various noblemen, but nobody seems to care about the peasants.)  Furthermore, Stark’s actions toward a scared subordinate in the first episode made me unsympathetic to him.  (I don’t care who has vowed to do what — his action in the series premier was unwarranted.)

Jon Snow is well scripted as a “good” character, but the actor portraying him needs to work on his range.  Kit Harrington is decent in the role, but he too often looks like a sad, spurned poet.  (Hey, it’s okay, Snowman, I’ve been there myself.)

Daenerys Targaryen appears to be a “good” character, and I do like her.  She’s thinly rendered, though, despite what seems like an inordinate amount of screen time devoted to her major subplot.  (And this subplot, with its legions of bare-chested barbarians, seems like a slowly paced cousin of the 1990’s “Xena: Warrior Princess.”)  Daenerys seems like an obvious power-fantasy for victimized women.  (Yeah, I know there’s nothing wrong with that.  And, yeah, I know that people say something similar about my beloved comic book movies.)

With all of these criticisms, it may sound as though I didn’t enjoy “Game of Thrones.”  To the contrary, I did.  If you like fantasy and are looking for something well made and different, I’d recommend you try this.  I think maybe I’m just trying to justify my more modest enthusiasm for one of contemporary pop culture’s sacred cows.

 

A review of “Fear the Walking Dead,” Season 1 (2015)

I know that love for “Fear the Walking Dead” (2015) is not universal, but I needed to pipe in at least once to say that I thought that “Season 1” was terrific.  (I feel funny calling six episodes a “season,” but I’ve heard that de facto miniseries like this are a new trend in television.)  I’d give this apocalypse story a 9 out of 10.

For me, “Fear the Walking Dead” satisfied a longstanding itch.  If you grow up a fan of post-apocalyptic horror, you are constantly exposed to the aftermath of the end of the world.  In the vast majority of films and fiction, horror fans are treated to flashbacks, at best, of how it all went down.  Here we (partly, at least) get to see it all go down.

I’ll bet that stories so expansive in scope are a little harder to conceive and write convincingly.  Very few writers of prose or screenplays have expertise in disaster management, disease control, mass psychology or homeland security.  How much easier is it to have protagonists roam a landscape of burned out buildings, with only graffiti, snippets of conversation, and occasionally a blown newspaper offering hints of exactly how the end came about?

“Fear” deserves a hell of a lot of credit just for trying (as does “The Strain” over at FX).  It’s also why the globally plotted “Contagion” (2011) was such a frighteningly interesting thriller, and why Max Brooks’ stage-by-stage zombie pandemic easily made “World War Z” the greatest zombie novel ever written.  Through the eyes of an average family, “Fear” at least tries to show us meaningful glimpses into how police, emergency and military authorities would react.  The result is some interesting stories.  A nerdy high school student is the first to prepare, for example, due to his attention to the Internet’s alternative media.  And a doomed compact between a civilian neighborhood and their putative military protectors concludes in a particularly horrifying way.

Soooooo many viewers complained that there were “no zombies.”  Well, there were always a couple, at least — we got a great one in the first episode’s earliest minutes.  But that wasn’t the point.  The creators of “Fear” told us that this would be a different type of show, with a “slow burn” -type horror.  For me, that worked.  Look at it this way — we routinely see “zombie swarms” over at that other show (what was its name again?).  We’ve been seeing them for five whole seasons — the first repelled Rick Grimes’ ill advised solitary horseback exploration of Atlanta.  That’s fun for a zombie horror fan, but it’s nothing new.

“Fear” offers us something much different — a kind of “creeping horror.”  This seemed like the “Psycho” (1960) of onscreen zombie tales.  No, we don’t see zombies everywhere, but watching even one episode of “The Walking Dead” (2010) lets us know that these lackadaisical everyday people are in for a hell of a ride.  We, the viewers, know what they do not.  That’s what our high school English teachers taught us was “dramatic irony,” and it makes this a nice little companion show to “The Walking Dead.”  In fact, ALL the characters we see are probably doomed to die, given what we know of the statistics established by “The Walking Dead.”  That’s pretty dark stuff.

Other viewers complained about the characters being boring or unlikable.  I do get that.  Nobody here, I think, will ever gain the same viewer loyalty as Rick, Michonne or Daryl Dixon.  (If it were put to a vote among the women of the world, I’m pretty sure they’d rename “The Walking Dead” as “The Norman Reedus Show.”)  But “Fear’s” average (and, yes, sometimes boring) people seemed far more “real” to me — I think they functioned better as viewer surrogates, and better allowed me to imagine how I might react in a world like this.  I almost started viewing this as an end-of-the-world docudrama in the same manner as the BBC’s little known “End Day” (2005).

Besides, two characters in particular do show great promise.  I just can’t say who or why without spoiling that they survived.  Yet another character who appears suicidal in the final episode is one that I thought was pretty interesting, and we do not actually see this person’s death.

Sure, I had my own quibbles.  Los Angeles is remarkably empty for a city of nearly 4 million people.  I’m inclined to think that, even after an unlikely evacuation attempt, it would still be swamped either with people who still needed help, or with zombies.

Also … the sparse information we’re given about the zombie phenomenon here seems disappointingly contradictory.  We’ve established that a universal, invisible illness means people will return into undeath, regardless of how they died.  But we also see a flu-like illness affect some people (who are doomed to die shortly thereafter), but not all people.  Are these two different manifestations of the same disease?  Is it even technically a contagion, or is it an environmental illness?  (I know my questions here are absurdly silly, but this is precisely the sort of thing that horror nerds argue about over at the Internet Movie Database.)

Oh, well.  My recommendation here is to give this a chance, with the caveat that it definitely isn’t “The Walking Dead.”  It’s damn good.

Oh!  One more thing!  Keep an eye out for occasional homages to “28 Days Later” (2002).  And watch closely — one such plot arc is devilishly turned on its head in a subtle thematic twist.

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Season 1 of Netflix’ “Daredevil” was downright superb!

Throughout the entire first season of Netflix’ “Daredevil,” the obsessive comic book nerd in me kept scanning outdoor scenes for The Avengers Tower.  I don’t think I saw it once.  But that didn’t affect my enjoyment of a serial crime thriller that was so often fantastic.

And I think that sums up the program nicely.  This is only a putative part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.  References to the fantastical larger universe of Marvel’s comic book movies are perfunctory and vague.  The intergalactic invasion of the Chitauri lizard-men, engineered by the Norse God Loki, is referred to only as “the event” — even though the destruction in New York is part of this season’s plot setup.  Characters like Iron Man and Thor are referred to dryly by a secondary bad guy who doesn’t even mention their names.  And other “comic book connections” tend to be minor, obscure, and sparing for a 13-episode season.  I actually gained the suspicion here that the screenwriters for this brutal crime drama were unconsciously embarrassed that their show was part of the MCU.  Yes, I do know that Netflix will soon launch other related shows, for less iconic comic book characters such as Luke Cage and Iron Fist, and that this incarnation of Daredevil seems fated to join something called “The Defenders.”  (Ugh.)  But that thankfully hasn’t happened yet.

Even the comic book elements of the Daredevil mythos seemed to me to be underplayed here.  His unusual powers (they don’t even feel like “superpowers”) rarely take center stage.  His villains aren’t garish. He’s only nicknamed “Daredevil” via a news article in the final episode; nor does he don anything approaching his trademark costume until then.  Wilson Fisk, our Big Bad, is never once referred to by his comic book appellation, “The Kingpin.”

And you know what?  All of that works just fine.  The Hell’s Kitchen we see in “Daredevil” might seem like a universe unto itself.  But, given this show’s quality, even a diehard comic book fan like me can concede, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

It ain’t broke.  I’d rate Season 1 at a 9 out of 10.  In many ways, “Daredevil” is far superior to anything else in the MCU.  This show’s distinguishing characteristic isn’t that it’s dark.  It’s that it’s a well written, well directed, and usually quite well performed crime-thriller.

It has surprisingly three-dimensional, truly interesting characters who are rendered in depth and detail.  This includes a few bad guys, by the way, who might have a knack for winning over viewer loyalty just by being so good at being bad.  (Most people would point to Fisk, but for me, Wesley was the guy you hate to love.)  Many characters are so well written and played by their actors that they seem 100 percent “real” — particularly Ben Urich and Karen Page.  This is the single MCU property with the most compelling characterization and, yes, I am including the “Iron Man” films in this comparison.

Yes, everything you’ve heard about this being Marvels darkest onscreen outing is correct … and THEN some.  The story is not just thematically dark; the story is itself brutal.  This seems to be a corner of the MCU in which the harshest consequences result for characters at every level.  Daredevil doesn’t just “take a hit” here; he gets cut up, bloodied and scarred — so much at several points that he requires the services of a (regrettably plot convenient) off-duty emergency room nurse.

Far worse is what happens to ordinary people who are heroic themselves.  No good deed goes unpunished in this nasty niche of Marvel’s world.  Defenseless people are shown no mercy by the story’s stronger protagonists.  The murder of one beloved character is all the more chilling because we witness their fruitless attempts to defend themselves despite a complete absence of special powers or training.  It’s … actually a bit worse than what we saw in that paragon of gritty superhero films, Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy.

And the crimes and criminals themselves?  Yeesh.  An early scene in the very first episode gives us a chilling little glimpse of human trafficking, with sobbing, kidnapped women loaded into the back of a dockside shipping container.  Not long after, we witness a father being beaten in the street before his son’s eyes; the child is then snatched.  The running theme here is that ordinary human evil can be more terrifying than dimension-hopping lizard-man armies or tyrannical Norse gods.  Sure, this theme is something we’ve seen plenty of times before.  But here, it’s just done so damn WELL.

The fight choreography was frikkin’ SWEET.  It was fantastic enough to be comic book violence, but gritty and consequential enough to be real-world violence.  I kept trying to figure out where a stunt double might be filling in for Charlie Cox, who portrayed Daredevil.  I couldn’t.  He’s … not doing his own stunts, is he?

The acting was usually quite good.  Deborah Ann Woll consistently stole the show as Karen Page — the script here beautifully elevates Karen beyond her pretty pathetic comic book incarnation.  (A caveat — I was reading the “Daredevil” comics in the 1990’s, and am using those as a frame of reference here; of course they might have changed significantly since then.)  Karen often seems to emerge as much of a primary protagonist here as Daredevil himself.  She’s got far more at stake, personally, and Woll expertly gets that across to the audience.  And she’s a complex character, playing the fool for Foggy Nelson, being the the darkly driven de facto apprentice to Ben Urich, and occasionally being manipulative and ruthless in ways that our other protagonists never could.  What a great improvement on the original source material.  (Hint — comics are not a medium known for its feminist sensibilities.)  Woll, who I remember hitting it out of the park in her psychopathic role in HBO’s “True Blood” (2008) outshines every co-star.

Nearly every other cast member was perfect or near perfect.  Vondie Curtis-Hall needs special mention here for truly bringing Ben Urich to life on the big screen for the first time.  His turn as the aging, jaded newspaper reporter was flawless.  Urich, to me, will always be the greatest reporter in comics.  (F&*$ Peter Parker and those Daily Planet pretty people; Ben was the real deal.  Who cares if he was past mid-life?  He was the only character in the comic books who spoke and proceeded like a real journalist.)

There were really only a couple of forgivable weaknesses that affected my enjoyment of Season 1.

First, the narrative structure … seemed “off” somehow.  I see the basic underlying story here as ultimately being an deeply personal battle between two men: Daredevil and the Kingpin.  (This is despite the way that Karen and Ben delightfully distinguish themselves as prime movers in the plot.)  I …. never really sensed any momentum here.  For a while, Daredevil and Fisk have minimal information about each other.  We see Matt Murdoch in skirmishes with many underlings; these seem episodic and without greater consequence.  Then … Matt quite accidentally meets Fisk for the first time, when he tries to “get a sense of” his enemy by … meeting his girlfriend?  Huh?  I never really got a sense of these two primary characters moving toward each other until the last episodes.  Oh, well … the comics were kinda like that.  But I do hope that future seasons are more tightly plotted, with more consistent tension.

Second, there really seemed to be multiple problems connected with the character of Foggy Nelson.  I do think that Eldon Henson performed quite poorly in the role.  Maybe he was just miscast.  He doesn’t once come close to the performances of his co-stars.  I also think the script did absolutely nothing to make Foggy a likable character.  He’s immature, self-absorbed, and ethically rickety.  His jokes fall flat; his flat “banter” with Karen is grating (and makes her look like an idiot).  He’s … downright irritating.  Why would Matt want him as a “best friend” or business partner?  Why would anybody?

Third, I occasionally would like a more specific nod in Hell’s Kitchen to the larger Marvel universe.  Maybe a truck passes by with the Stark Industries log.  Maybe a kid passes by with a Captain America t-shirt.  Maybe a couple of S.H.I.E.L.D. agents investigate Fisk’s employees in connection with offshore partners who are alleged to have super-powered henchman.  Just something small — it wouldn’t spoil the “real” feel of our dark drama, and it would place our protagonists’ lives in a larger context.

All in all, though, “Daredevil” was surprisingly superior to what I thought it would be, even with all of its glowing press.  See it.

One final note — if you’re a fan of both superhero comics and AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” then Season 2’s casting has a wicked cool surprise, if you haven’t already heard about it.  Head on over to The Internet Movie Database to see who is playing whom.  You’ll smile.

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My slightly disappointed review of “The X Files” Season 1.

I am blogging my past TV reviews from Facebook; this was my surprisingly unenthusiastic reaction to “The X Files” Season 1.  Yes, this review is dated, as it makes no mention of the show’s impending return.  (Hooray.)

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I love ‘The X Files.” And I mean I REALLY love “The X Files.” It’s possibly my favorite television show of all time, running neck and neck with shows like “24,” Battlestar Galactica” and “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” So I was very surprised at my own disappointment when, via Netflix, I was able to watch Season 1 in its entirety for the first time. Taken together, I think its 24 episodes deserve a 5 out 0f 10. And bear in mind – that’s coming from a diehard fan.

I first fell in love with this show as its fourth or fifth season was currently airing. This was long before Netflix streaming, and I’m pretty sure it was before DVD’s were even a thing. (I’m old.) What few episodes I’d seen of Season 1 were from syndication and purchased VHS tapes. So I’ve been proclaiming my love for the show (which had a nine-year run) for years without ever having seen much of the early seasons.

Some great TV shows can get off to a rough start. “The Simpsons,” “MST3K” and even “Family Guy” were less than stellar when they first began. Shows like “24” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” were good, but got much better. “The X Files” was surprisingly average.

The first nine episodes were, frankly, poor. There was little of the suspense, mystery and characterization that would eventually make the show great, with Mulder and Scully being flat, and even annoying characters that were thinly scripted and awkwardly played by David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. Duchovny, early on, was just bad. His wooden line delivery made him seem like a Fox Network intern who was standing in for a sick professional actor. Anderson was better, but could only do so much with the clunky and simplistic dialogue.

Episodes like “Ghost in the Machine” and “Ice” seem clearly like ripoffs of sci-fi classics (“2001: A Space Odyssey” and John Carpenter’s “The Thing,” respectively), though “Ice” still manages to be fun. One episode, “Space,” was so boring that it was painful to watch. “Squeeze,” which is a favorite for many longtime fans, was good, but even it hasn’t aged all that well. I’m surprised the show lasted.

As mysteries or police thrillers, these early episodes also failed. Eager witnesses cheerfully and conveniently present themselves early on to volunteer clues and exposition. The underlying reveals seemed like elements thrown together with little exposition. And Duchovny looks like he’d never held a gun in his life. (I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to wave it around like that.) I can’t remember the episode but, at one point, Mulder (a supposedly brilliant Oxford-trained criminal psychologist) actually confuses schizophrenia with MPD (multiple personality disorder). Sigh.

Then there was a shift in tone and quality. “Eve” is one of the all-time greats. (And it was here where the dark themes and complex overarching plotlines were truly established that would later define the show.) “Beyond The Sea” saw Anderson shine, along with the writers and directors. It was simply fantastic … even unforgettable (thanks in no small part to amazing guest actor Brad Dourif).

“Darkness Falls” and “Born Again” established their creators’ abilities to make great standalone, scary mysteries. Duchovny just seemed to … get better. He settled into the role, became more natural, and the writers seemed to begin giving Mulder the endearing quirks and idiosyncrasies that eventually grew him into an attractive, three-dimensional character that so many people would grow to love.

And the final episode, “The Erlenmeyer Flask,” clinched it. Here the show seemed to reach the greatness that I remember, with a great story with humor, pathos, creepiness, tension and seemingly plausible twists and mysteries. It was wonderful, and a great precursor of the greatness we would see in later seasons.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the show. And Season 1 was really more average than flat out bad. I’m just saying that the first season compares poorly with what longtime fans remember from the next eight years.

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My review of “Sherlock” Season 1.

While other 14-year-olds were successfully chasing girls, I was wearing a hat from London and trying to learn Sherlock Holmes’ deduction techniques.  This is a thing.  This is a thing that happened.  Anyway, here is the review I did a couple of years ago when I first saw England’s “Sherlock.”  I was slightly enthusiastic in my praise.

++++++++++

This … this is a *TV* show?! One episode of Britain’s “Sherlock” is more entertaining than most feature films I’ve seen lately — thanks to high-production values, and incredibly good acting, writing and directing. The first “season” (the Brits call them “series”) is easily a perfect 10.

To give you an idea of how good a show this is, I was hooked on it in under five minutes. (I can’t even say that about “Battlestar Galactica,” which took me a couple of episodes.) I was at a friend’s house and saw Holmes’ first confrontation with his arch-nemesis and apparent equal, James Moriarity in the closing minutes of the final episode. After seeing other bits and pieces (I had stuff going on that night), I renewed my Netflix Streaming subscription just to watch the whole show.

A caveat – I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes nerd since before I was even a sci-fi nerd, and that’s a looooong time. I was introduced to the short stories (and various film adaptations) at age 14 by a bibliophilic uncle, and I was a nut for it. It honestly isn’t as pathetic as it sounds – people who’ve never read the stories don’t really know how dark they were. Holmes fought monsters, assassins, poisonous snakes, and the goddam KKK. Sherlock Holmes was never Miss Marple. People don’t realize that. I even had a genuine deerstalker cap from London, and tried to practice the deduction techniques that Arthur Conan Doyle described in his stories. I sucked at it. (Okay, maybe all this actually is pathetic.)

But this show is awesome, seriously. Benedict Cumberbatch is a great actor, and is perfect as a younger Holmes transplanted to modern London. He has the look (and height) of the literary character, and a great voice for him. The (fantastic) script for the show can’t lend itself easily to line delivery — lots of exposition and jargon that need to be delivered quickly and naturally, but with enough interest and enthusiasm to arouse interest in the viewer. Cumberbatch is terrific. He doesn’t stumble once. And his rapid line delivery (coupled with a lot of fast directing) keeps the momentum going in a show that can easily get bogged down in jargon and detail. Martin Freeman (is this the same guy playing Bilbo in “The Hobbit?”) as Watson is also perfect as an exasperated, everyman foil.

Again, the writing is damned good. Basically, you’ve got all the magic of the original stories (including countless Easter eggs and homages), combined with a police procedural like “CSI,” with a darker tone that reminded me a little of “24.” (Any show that reminds me of “24” is automatically good.) The plot and character dynamics actually remind me of “The X-Files.” Each episode features ordinary people as minor characters, thrust into a violent mystery. They’re then aided by two protagonists – one with unusual investigative methods, and one a straight-man foil with whom the viewers can identify.

The directing reminded me of Steven Soderbergh, which is also a very good thing.

My only quibbles are almost negligible. One, I do remember the Holmes from the stories as being a reasonably nice guy. (Or at least my teenaged mind read him that way.) He was aloof but ultimately kind. And films like “The Seven Percent Solution” (1976), the amazing “Murder By Decree” (1979), and “Young Sherlock Holmes” (1985) conveyed this well. Here, Holmes actually doesn’t seem terribly nice. He visibly cares nothing for the victims of crimes, and is a “consulting detective” only for the intellectual stimulation. Holmes describes himself as “a high functioning sociopath.” He tells Watson he doesn’t bother with empathy or compassion because they simply don’t help him solve the crime more quickly. Watson calls him on this a few times, in scenes that were meant to bring depth and moral ambiguity to the character.

Well, that’s fine … it seems like good screenwriting. But it does present the writers with a question: if Holmes is truly a sociopath … why is he not Moriarity? I got the sense that if Holmes were questioned, he would probably reveal himself to be a moral nihilist. (It’s possible I read too much into things.) So … why isn’t he a bad guy? Why does Watson even trust him? Why not perpetrate the crimes instead of solving them?

My other quibble is also small – the musical score. Here we have a great example of a dark TV show. And yet … Holmes’ theme throughout the episodes is … a charming little ditty. I think that’s a harpsichord playing. Whatever – it hampers the mood and tone, and I hope they get rid of it for the second season. But it’s not a big deal. I actually found the theme music for “The X-Files” pretty annoying early on, but it never prevented me from enjoying the show.

Quick note – a “season” here is only three episodes, each of which is an hour and a half, so anybody buying the DVD should keep that in mind.

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